If You Are Going to Use Acronyms in a Post, Please Define Them in the Post

Updated to include link to later acronym post: Why Acronyms Should Be Avoided Unless You Define Them First.

I used to only define an acronym/abbreviation/initialism in the first post I used it in and not define it in later posts. I later realized why that was a bad idea. At some point, I need to go back and fix those posts where I did this as it’s unfair to the reader. My suggestion to all bloggers is ALWAYS spell out or define acronyms/abbreviations/initialisms the first time you use them in a blog post since you never know if the first time I am reading your blog is blog post number 10,000,001 or the first time you used the acronym/abbreviation/initialism back in blog post number 3. It’s bad enough people assume that you will know what the acronym means.

I am reminded of a skit I saw years ago where this guy retiring from a nuclear reactor made an ambiguous comment. It seems NBC has blocked the various video links that I found due to copyright – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JrIYR8jArk&feature=player_embedded&fbclid=IwAR0GOy2IHF0Zq8h-qP8DzgFb0b0d4zKJ0j_0_hI6R2T1O1CZF0NuDQqXaKM (yes, it has been removed). The skit was from 1984 and Ed Asner played the manager retiring from a nuclear power plant. His last words were something like: “Just remember one thing, you can’t put too much water into a nuclear reactor.” After he leaves, much of the rest of the skit has the power plant staff disagreeing on his final words. Did he mean you could have too much water or you could never fill it with enough water. I let you guess how the skit ends. Shame that NBC has decided to do take down notices on YouTube anytime somebody adds it back. This skit shows the importance of clear and easy to understand language as well as what happens when you use language that you assume is clear, but can be interpreted several ways.

For example, DNF is a common acronym in many blogs. Choosing the first acronym website that popped up in a quick online search, I get 31 possible choices: https://www.acronymfinder.com/DNF.html, not counting alternates that can easily go way beyond 31.Which isn’t bad considering one search I did a while back yielded 119 possible choices. With bloggers who talk about reading books, it usually means Did Not Finish, but there are probably tons of exceptions out there. If you don’t know context, you wouldn’t know which one was correct.

Even then, sometimes context can be misleading. For example, if I type SSDI without context, using the same website, I get 7 possible choices – https://www.acronymfinder.com/SSDI.html. If you follow my blog enough, you would look at context to know it’s either referring to the Social Security Death Index or Social Security Disability Insurance, frequently mistyped as Income. In general, I try to avoid using an acronym with multiple meanings in the same post and simply spell out the acronym in each case to avoid confusing the reader.

The above applies to authors and writers as well. If you use an acronym/abbreviation/initialism in your book early on, but don’t use it again for a long time, best to define it again. It also applies to bloggers and writers when you are using language that may have multiple meanings. I read British writers who use terms that would be insulting to Americans who don’t the terms mean something different to a British audience. As an addition, who is your primary audience? If I am writing a story to British audiences, I will use colour, honour, civilisation, and other British English spellings that I wouldn’t use if my target audience was American where I would use color, honor, civilization. Same for other word usage.

My favorite real-life example is a friend who used to work for a major aircraft manufacturer as a quality inspector. He would see reports with alt. and https://www.acronymfinder.com/ALT.html has 55 meanings for alt, a number of which easily apply to aircraft.

I used to work on an Air Force base and we had some other branches (Navy, Army, etc.) who were sometimes assigned to the base for short periods. Turns out that XYZ acronym in the Air Force could mean something totally different to the Army. Not only that, but within the Air Force,different Air Commands could use the same acronym for other things. End result: I stopped using acronyms and always referred to the actual words for the acronym. For example, others said SAC, I said Strategic Air Command. Took a few seconds longer, but you didn’t have to guess what I meant.

About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's collaborateDealspotr.com
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1 Response to If You Are Going to Use Acronyms in a Post, Please Define Them in the Post

  1. Pingback: Why Acronyms Should Be Avoided Unless You Define Them First | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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