What is CIDP? Is a SQUID an animal or a scientific instrument? Is an algorithm simple or SIMPLE? What’s the difference between hcp and hcp and HCP? What does URL actually stand for? Where did the name ‘laser’ came from? How should you say ‘LED’? Is the chapter title “The ABCs of Acronyms” correct?

These are all examples of acronyms, a way of writing a long and complex term in a shorter, simpler way. Acronyms have several benefits:

  • Acronyms can make a paper easier to write. Using acronyms enables a writer to write more quickly and develop more complex discussions in simpler ways.
  • Acronyms can reduce a word count or character count, especially in very technical papers. This may be necessary to meet submission requirements for a journal or conference.
  • Acronyms can reduce a sense of repetitiveness for the reader. A reader may become bored if they have to keep reading out very long terms in their mind.
  • Acronyms can make a paper easier to read. Rather than re-reading long and familiar terms, a reader can focus on new concepts and logical connections.

Acronyms are very common in academic writing; you have come across lots of them already. You probably already know how to create them, define them, and use them quite well in your fields of specialization.

However, while reading academic articles, books, or theses, or while listening to lectures and dissertations, especially those from outside your field, you will have also come across acronyms that are not well explained. You have probably asked questions just like those at the beginning of this section. If you don’t know what a strange word or series of letters means, the rest of the discussion can become very confusing. The acronyms might be very familiar to an expert in the field, but they can make an article appear cryptic to a student or a researcher from another field. New acronyms that are used ineffectively or without adequate explanation can also confuse some readers.

In this chapter, I will explain all the various ways that acronyms can be used, the rules that journals and publishers place on them, and how some rules of grammar apply around them. I’ll also point out approaches that I feel are effective and others that are not. These will help you to improve the use of acronyms in your writing and to create good acronyms of your own, so others can read your papers more easily and enjoyably. By the end of this chapter, we’ll be able to answer all the questions posed at the beginning, and hopefully be able to prevent such confusion and difficulties in future papers of your own.

As you go through this chapter, try to read the example acronyms aloud or in your mind as letters or as words and think about which ones are easier or faster to say. If you’re not sure how to say one, try to ask a native speaker of English how they would say it aloud or in their mind. For example, take one like BCT, meaning ‘bounded convergence theorem’. For this, spell out the letters: ‘B, C, T’. Pronounce the letters: ‘bee, see, tee’. For another example, RAM, meaning random-access memory. For this, pronounce it like a word: ‘ram’. This will help show how acronyms are chosen and which ones are effective. You may find some are said differently in the mind when reading compared to how they are said aloud in a conversation or lecture.

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