How to Abbreviate Words

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word. Using an abbreviation can save time, space and effort. We see abbreviations every day, but when you are using abbreviations in writing, there are certain conventions you have to follow. This article attempts to explain these conventions.

How to Abbreviate Words

If you are using a long word or phrase repeatedly in a document, you can abbreviate the word. The most common way of abbreviating a phrase is using the initial letters of the words.

For example,

Automatic Certificate Management Environment → ACME

Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyst → CCPA

World Living Water Systems → WLWS

Teaching English as a Second Language → TESL

Concept Definition and Design Research → CDDRHow to Abbreviate Words - 1


When you are using abbreviations, you should also consider whether it is familiar to your readers. It is always better to use the full form of the abbreviation first. Once the abbreviation is defined, you can use the abbreviation in the rest of the document. For example, How to Abbreviate Words

But some abbreviations like radar, Dr., NASA, UNESCO etc. do not have to be explained. This actually depends on the popularity of the abbreviation. For example, look at the following two phrases.

FBI issued a warning……..

According to BIMCC……..

Most of your readers are familiar with the abbreviation FBI, but most of them will wonder about the meaning of BIMCC. It is also possible that there are more than one meaning to this abbreviation. BIMCC, for example, can be expanded as Brussels International Map Collectors’ Circle and Bilateral Implementation and Multilateral Consultative Commission. Therefore, always define the unfamiliar abbreviations at the beginning of the document. However, if it is a formal document, always define the long name first, regardless of how well known it is.How to Abbreviate Words

In scientific writing, abbreviations are not generally used in the abstract or in the title. And only standard abbreviations are used in this kind of formal writing. 

But always be consistent. Don’t change your abbreviation in the middle of the document. If you have used CCPA to refer to Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyst, don’t change the abbreviation to CCEPA in the middle of the text.

Another important fact to remember is that you cannot use the same abbreviation to refer to two words. For example, if CCPA was used to refer to Cellebrite Certified Physical Analyst, you cannot use it to refer to Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

The context and the form of communication are other important facts to consider when you are using abbreviations. Abbreviations that refer to organizations, committees, and standard concepts can be used in both formal and informal communications. But you should never use non-standard abbreviations in formal writing. 

Image Courtesy:

“UNESCO logo” (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

“NASA logo” by National Aeronautics and Space Administration – Converted from Encapsulated PostScript (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.