Part of: Grammar points
Abbreviations and acronyms
Last updated: 20 December, 2019
Following this helps people with:
time pressures: words make sense immediately
stress: not knowing what something means may increase stress
multi-tasking: with divided attention anything unclear will confuse
cognitive impairments: meaningful words require less mental effort
visual impairments: meaning given in context can reduce eye strain
Abbreviations and acronyms are generally not good for readability. If the short form is better known it may be OK. But it's dangerous to assume something is familiar. Test your content.
Remember, language is organic. Some everyday words, like laser, come from acronyms.
This includes proper names.
mph, 4am, WH Smith
Do not use "eg' and "ie".
Do not use "etc".
These are abbreviations of Latin terms. They are not readable and inclusive for all users.
An international audience may not know abbreviations that seem familiar to you.
VAT (value added tax)
It's a very commonly known to many people. But it may not be known to users new to the country or an international audience.
People will recognise and know the meaning of acronyms without necessarily knowing, or needing to know, what the letters stand for.
GIF, MB, KB
You may need to include a brief description alongside your acronym.
"the conservation charity RSPB" instead of "the RSPB"
If the individual letters are pronounced use capital letters.
BBC, CEO, USA
If the short form version is said aloud as one word.
Nasa, Nato, Unicef
If the acronym has entered everyday language use all lower case letters.
the word assassin has four Ss
If you use an abbreviation or acronym more than once, explain it in full at least on the first use. Generally write out in full and provide the short form version in brackets after.
For well-known abbreviations and acronyms give the short form version followed by the full wording.
Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo)
BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation)
If an organisation is only mentioned once, you do not need to provide its acronym. But do if it's useful information for your reader.
Writing out an acronym in full only on first use is a common style guide recommendation. But users may only read one section of your page and miss the full version.
If you can provide the full version as accessible hover text, do that. GOV.UK use a markdown function.
GOV.UK Style guide, UK government website
GOV.UK How to publish – Markdown – Acronyms, UK government website