A woman holding a pen

Let’s talk about acronyms

A computer with flowers, magazines, and a phone
Acronyms might be your best friend, but I’d like to remind you that they aren’t the best friend of everyone.

Oxford Dictionaries define acronyms as words formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as they are spelled, not as separate letters. Examples of common acronyms in Canada include the CBC, AIDS, and RCMP.

If your reader doesn’t know your acronyms, they are likely missing out on your message(s). If your reader doesn’t understand your message, you might be alienating your reader.

I’d like to encourage you to reduce the number of acronyms you use in your written and verbal communication. This will help your audience know they can depend on you to share information that is easy to understand.

You may work at an organization with a lengthy name and you may be thinking something along the lines of “but our name is too long to spell out every time.”

If your organization has a long name, I suggest that you avoid acronyms by using something similar to the following examples:

Canadian Public Health Association                                 call it “The Association”

National Institute for the Blind                                           call it “The Institute”

The National Public Health Centre                                     call it “The Centre”

If you are going to follow this guideline, it is a good practice to first introduce the name of your organization in full at the beginning of your communication, and let the audience know what you will be calling it after the first mention. So if I’m going to write about the Canadian Public Health Association (“The Association”), I add those brackets and quotations marks after the full name. This tells the reader that I’m calling it the Association for the rest of the document.

If I were writing a speech, I would write something like, “I am pleased to present at the Canadian Public Health Association’s annual conference. For the rest of my speech, I’ll refer to the organization simply as ‘The Association.’”

If you are determined to use acronyms in your writing, I encourage you to follow these guidelines:

  • Spell out your acronym at the first mention—for example, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  • Once you spell out the acronym, follow it with brackets that define the acronym: for example, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
  • Be consistent throughout the rest of your document with using your chosen acronym—don’t switch between CBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
  • Use all capital letters for your acronym–for example, don’t write Cbc
  • Do not add punctuation to your acronym (don’t write C.B.C., write CBC)

For further learning about acronyms: