Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Initials

writing tipsWriting Tips for Readability

Few Writing errors are as annoying to readers as abbreviations, acronyms, and initials that are either not defined or send them hunting for an explanation. This common mistake is compounded when using your report as the basis for an oral presentation. What are obvious short cuts to you may make your readers and/or audience resentful rather than admiring.

Avoid the jargon trap!

Good luck!
Deborah Levine

What is the difference between an abbreviation and an acronym?

Abbreviations are shortened versions of a word, for example, Jan. for January and etc. for etcetera. Acronyms are abbreviations that can be pronounced as words, for example, NASA and OPEC. There are also abbreviations based on initials which are not intended be pronounced as a word, for example, FBI and UTC. All acronyms are abbreviations, but only a relatively small group of abbreviations are acronyms.

How do I use abbreviations in technical writing?

The first time you write an abbreviation or acronym in your paper, spell out the full phrase for the reader. Follow the phrase by the abbreviation in parentheses, for example, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) and College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS). You can then use only the abbreviation throughout the document unless there are stand-alone sections. In that case, repeat the process for that section. Consider adding a glossary if you have multiple acronyms and abbreviations.


Deborah Levine is an award-winning, best-selling author of 14 books. As Editor of the American Diversity Report, she received the 2013 Champion of Diversity Award from and the Excellence Award from the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. Her writing about cultural diversity spans decades with articles published in The American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, The Bermudian Magazine, and The Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. She earned a National Press Association Award, was a Blogger with The Huffington Post, and is featured on C-Span/ BookTV.

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