Posted by: episystechpubs | April 14, 2020

Editors Corner: Getting in shape with your abs and acs

Over the years, I think Donna, Jackie, Ben, and I have each written about acronyms and initialisms, yet they still seem to be a thorn in the side of many people. One of the largest complaints is that they are overused. Amen to that, brothers and sisters!

Another complaint is that when they are used, people do not explain what they stand for. My primary message today is that if you use acronyms and initialisms, you need to explain what they stand for the first time you use them.

But first, let’s have a little refresher. An abbreviation is the shortened form of a word, like “vs.” instead of “versus,” or “avg.” instead of “average.” Therefore, acronyms and initialisms are often considered abbreviations. Acronyms are abbreviations that are pronounced like words (EASE, HELOC, MICR). Initialisms are abbreviations that are pronounced by saying each letter (AIX, OS, PTO).

When you use an acronym or initialism that is not commonly known, the JHA rule is to spell it out the first time and put the abbreviation in parentheses. (If you aren’t sure how common it is, err on the side of caution and spell it out.) After you spell it out with the abbreviation once, you can use the abbreviation alone. For example:

  • We could all save money and improve the way we do things if we practiced continuous process improvement (CPI). CPI has cut costs in several departments and prevented waste in others.
  • Use the plan, do, check, act (PDCA) method to manage the new user experience (UX) project with single sign-on (SSO). We think people will really look forward to SSO because it is such a time saver.

While that might seem like a lot of “’splainin’ to do, Lucy,” imagine this: your email is being read by someone in another department, or possibly a new employee. It only takes a second to spell things out the first time so that your audience isn’t reading or hearing the acronyms like this the first time:

  • Use the PDCA method to manage the new UX project with SSO.

If you need some assistance, we have these Symitar resources:

If you would like to read more about acronyms and initialisms, you can revisit these Editor’s Corner posts:

And if you just came for a picture of a cute puppy, I have that, too:

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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