Re: When to Spell Out Acronyms

Subject: Re: When to Spell Out Acronyms
From: Al Geist <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2006 09:01:41 -0500

Harris, Michael wrote:

One of the most fluid issues I find in writing technical documentation is determining when to spell out acronyms in the first usage and when to 'assume' that since all of the readers should have some knowledge of the material, that spelling it out is not necessary.
Does anyone have guidance in this regard? The primary customer of our documentation is a technical branch of the Army. While CPU is well known, does it get spelled out? How about CORBA, which a local manager thinks is well-known enough as Common Object Request Broker Architecture and does not need to be spelled out.

I've found that when you assume everyone knows what you're talking about that just the opposite may be true. I spell out the first instance regardless. For example, COBRA may mean one thing to the Army, but it means another to someone in HR (where COBRA is an insurance option for the recently unemployed). PCP for a project I am currently documenting, it means Process Control Program. For those in the medical industry, it is an abbreviation for an an anesthetic. CPU in the computer industry means Central Processing Unit. It can also mean Change Password Utility, or (according to Google) the Canadian Powerlifting Union.

The key is knowing your audience. Then again, if you define every military acronym, you may never get to the meat of a document.

Al "who once defined an military acronym that was 20 words of a 25 word sentence"


Al Geist
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When to Spell Out Acronyms: From: Harris, Michael

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