Spelling out acronyms at first mention

Subject: Spelling out acronyms at first mention
From: Gilda_Spitz -at- markham -dot- longview -dot- ca
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2000 13:01:44 -0400

In the "good old days" of books only, the rule regarding acronyms used to

- Spell out an acronym at first mention - for example, "see your database
administrator (DBA)".
- Subsequently use the acronym only - for example, "see your DBA".

But when you write text for an online help system, you can't assume that
users will read the "first" text first. So what do you with the concept of
"first mention"?

This problem is particularly tricky if you are single-sourcing, as we are.
We use the same FrameMaker file, with minor changes in conditional text, to
generate printed books, Acrobat books, and HTML. Oops, sorry, should have
said "hypertext markup language (HTML). ; - )

If you take the situation to its extreme, I suppose you could make a case
for spelling out an acronym every single time. But that seems terribly
repetitive. On the other hand, if you don't, you risk confusing readers who
missed the "first mention". We've compromised by spelling it out at first
mention within each Heading 1, but not any Heading 2s or 3s related to that
Heading 1. But even that doesn't deal with the issue totally.

I'd be curious to hear what people do about this.

Gilda Spitz
Manager, Documentation
Longview Solutions Inc.

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