2B or Not 2B: When to Use Acronyms

Texting teenagers aren’t the only ones who love acronyms – most professionals also love to use them. Acronyms can save valuable time in conversations and in writing. They allow us to reference and understand complex and abstract concepts in seconds.Acronyms

To an outsider, however, they can create barriers to communication. For example, people in the oil and gas engineering industry would likely understand this sentence instantly: “Our EP work includes the design of SAGD CPFs.” However, someone unfamiliar with industry terminology wouldn’t understand it at all. The question of whether an acronym will clarify or confuse depends completely on your reader.

As a general practice, it’s best to state the full term on its first use and include its acronym in brackets. For example, “Our client has chosen steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology for the facility.” After that, you can use the acronym by itself.

However, some acronyms are so common that spelling them out could actually create confusion. For example, most business people know what a PDF is, but if you asked them for a report in “Portable Document Format,” you might get a blank stare.

If you’re not sure, consider your readers’ likely level of technical knowledge, and err on the side of spelling things out.

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