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Three Tips for Using Acronyms and Abbreviations in Business Writing

The Convenience and Curse of Business Shorthand


TBH (that’s “to be honest”), there are too many abbreviations and acronyms used in business communications. Yes, it’s more convenient – and less wordy – to shorten text, but there is also a real danger that you will confuse your audience.

Below are three tips to help keep your message simple while using popular speak at the same time.

CHEAT SHEET: Acronyms and abbreviations are shortened forms of long terms or phrases. However, while all acronyms are abbreviations, there is an important difference:

Abbreviations are shortened versions of words (e.g., when “FRI” is used in place of “Friday”).

Acronyms are abbreviations where the first letters from each word in a phrase spell out a new term (e.g., when “President of the United States” is shortened to “POTUS”).

Another type of acronym is initialism, where a string of words in a long phrase is abbreviated to its initial letters. The letters are pronounced individually, not spoken as a word (e.g., “Federal Bureau of Investigation” becomes “FBI”).

Define Your Subject

As you introduce an acronym or abbreviation, you may need to define the phrase. If you are discussing a complex or unfamiliar topic, there is already a higher possibility you will lose your audience before they have a chance to digest the material. Speaking in code increases the likelihood a reader will tune out. For instance, technology has a language all its own. When you start talking about VPN and SECaaS or SEO and SERP, it’s easy for a reader to get confused about which abbreviation applies to a particular topic or how the different acronyms relate to each other.

Spell it Out

This is one rule that should be followed almost 100% of the time – write out the entire phrase you will be abbreviating or using an acronym for BEFORE introducing the shorthand. This is considered proper Associated Press (AP) style and plants the term in your readers’ minds so they can easily associate the shortened version with the topic when they see it later in the content.

Check Your Letters

Believe it or not, your familiar business acronym may have a twin – or more! Even after you define the shorthand, make sure the abbreviation or acronym doesn’t have a meaning that could be offensive or misconstrued. If it does, consider alternative words. If you are solely publishing to others within your industry, it’s probably safe to assume they are familiar with the jargon and you can use it without worry. The Free Dictionary is one online resource where you can crosscheck acronyms.

Acronyms and abbreviations make writing easier – but if they confuse your message, they are ineffective. When you’re done writing content, read it one final time as a novice to your topic would read it. If they understand it, you can be sure your target audience will as well.

This post is courtesy of MMC Account Manager Melissa Holder

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