M3: Abbreviating Words and Using Acronyms

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Be familiar with common abbreviations.
  2. Understand when to use and not to use abbreviations.
  3. Recognize common symbols when you see them and learn to use them.

Abbreviations are shortened forms of words used for convenience or to manage space. In its purest form, an abbreviation includes initial letters of a word followed by a period, such as “in.” for “inches.” However, many abbreviations skip over letters, such as “yd.” for “yard,” and are still written with a period. Some multi-word terms are abbreviated by using the first letter of each word and are called acronyms rather than abbreviations. An example of an acronym is “FBI” for “Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Some abbreviations or acronyms require a period (etc.), but quite a few never take periods (IBM or FBI). You simply have to learn these differences through the experience of seeing specific examples in print.

The following sections will clarify when to use them and how to write them appropriately.

Common Abbreviations for Titles with Names

Titles that are used with names are often abbreviated—in fact, they are almost always abbreviated. You should spell out religious, academic, and government titles in academic writing, but otherwise, use the standard abbreviations.

Common Abbreviations

Use these standard abbreviations before names: Mrs. Jones, Mr. Hernandez, Ms. Fieldston, Sen. Brown, Rev. Arles, Gen. Bradford, Dr. Borray, Rep. Anderson, Prof. Cruz, St. Francis, Sgt. Appleby

Use these standard abbreviations after names: Alex Jones, DDS; Arnold Wilson, PhD; George A. Ortiz, Jr.; George A. Ortiz, Sr.; Hannah Borray, MD; Phil Horace, BA; Millie Mance, MA; Gloria Wills, MBA; Fred Flores, CPA

Do not use an abbreviation both before and after a name: Write Dr. Tien Nguyen or Tien Nguyen, MD, but do not write Dr. Tien Nguyen, MD.

Spell out these titles in academic writing: Professor Rafael Martinez, Reverend Martin Luther King, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Senator Kamala Harris

Do not use these title abbreviations if not attached to a name: Do not use any of these abbreviations on their own without a name. Instead spell the titles out, as in “I’m going to see the doctor after my meeting with my professor.”

Commonly Used Stand-Alone Abbreviations and Acronyms

Many abbreviations and acronyms are widely used as stand-alone words. A small sampling of these abbreviations and acronyms is listed in the following tables.

Word

Abbreviation

Avenue

Ave.

Boulevard

Blvd.

chapter

ch.

company

co.

Incorporated

Inc.

January

Jan.

Katherine

Kathy

maximum

max.

miscellaneous

misc.

months

mos.

North

N.

Ohio

OH

package

pkg.

page

p.

pages

pp.

paid

pd.

Robert

Bob

September

Sept.

Southwest

SW

Tuesday

Tues.

University

Univ.

Phrase

Acronym

Alcoholics Anonymous

AA

Bachelor of Arts

BA

Central Intelligence Agency

CIA

digital video disk

DVD

Environmental Protection Association

EPA

Food and Drug Administration

FDA

Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure

https

Internal Revenue Service

IRS

Parent-Teacher Association

PTA

World Wide Web

www

Abbreviations with Numbers

Some abbreviations are used almost exclusively to describe or clarify numbers. These abbreviations should not be used as stand-alone abbreviations. In other words, you can use the dollar-sign abbreviation to write “$5.00” but not to write “I earned several $ last night.” Some of these abbreviations can be used within text, such as BCE, p.m., and CST. Measurement abbreviations, however, should be used only in tables, graphs, and figures and should be spelled out within continuous text. Some of these abbreviations will be addressed as symbols later in this section.

Abbreviation

Purpose/Meaning

300 BCE

Before the Common Era

1900 CE

Common Era

34 m

meters

28 in.

inches

cents

6:00 p.m.

post meridiem (after noon)

1:00 a.m.

ante meridiem (before noon)

15 cm

centimeters

No. 8

number

85 lbs.

pounds

#5

number

11:30 a.m. EST

Eastern Standard Time

4 hr. 10 min. 30 sec.

hours, minutes, and seconds

4 + 3

plus

½ = .5

equals

7 ft.

feet

7n < 21

is less than

432 ≠ 430

does not equal

44 cu. in.

cubic inches

Abbreviations in Academic Writing

Academic citations include their own set of common abbreviations. They vary somewhat depending on the citation style you’re using, so always follow your specific style guidelines. Some typical academic citation abbreviations are provided here.

Abbreviation

Purpose/Meaning

anon.

anonymous

b.

born

c. or ca.

circa; about (used with dates)

ch. or chap.

chapter

d.

died

ed., eds.

editor, editors

et al.

et alia (Latin: “and others”)

illus.

illustrated

n.d.

no date available

n.p.

no publisher information available

p., pp.

page, pages

vol., vols.

volume, volumes

Topic- or Profession-Specific and Incident-Specific Abbreviations

If you are writing for an audience familiar with a specific vocabulary that incorporates abbreviations—for example, readers with a strong military base—you can use those abbreviations freely. But when you are writing for readers who do not share that common knowledge base, you will have to spell out abbreviations.

Incident-specific abbreviations are created for use in one specific situation and thus require obvious references so the audience can understand their meaning. For example, say you are writing a story about a teacher named Mr. Nieweldowskilty. If you refer to him by his full name once and then note that students call him Mr. Niews for short and then refer to him as Mr. Niews the rest of the time, your audience can easily understand that Mr. Niews is short for Mr. Nieweldowskilty. Be consistent though, once you introduce him as Mr. Niews, you should use the shortened version for the rest of the story; don’t switch back and forth between Mr. Niews and Mr. Nieweldowskilty because you can confuse your reader. And if you write a second story about him, you cannot assume that readers will know the abbreviated name, Mr. Niews.

Recognizing and Using Symbols

Symbols are actually a form of abbreviating and are used widely in mathematics, on maps, and in some other situations. Here’s a small sample:

75%

Percent sign

#5

Number sign

4 + 3

Plus sign

@

At sign

$5.00

Dollar sign

Cents sign

½ = .5

Equals sign

432 ≠ 430

Not equal to sign

>

Greater than

7n ≤ 21

Less than or equal sign

©

Copyright

98.6º

Degrees

 


Adapted from Chapter 19 “Mechanics” in Writer’s Handbook v 1.0 used according to Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Back to: Grammar and Sentence Construction Handbook > Unit 5: Mechanics