As we saw, the use of acronyms and initialisms has both benefits and risks. They can make a paper shorter and easier to read, or make it ambiguous and complex. Using them reduces repetitiveness, but using too many can make the paper resemble “alphabet spaghetti” (a type of children’s pasta shaped into letters) and confuse the reader.

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So, an author should consider how any particular acronym or initialism will affect their paper and how it is read, and judge whether to use it or not. Every paper and field is different, and every acronym and initialism is different, so there are no universal rules for this, only some guidelines and points to consider. Let’s summarize the various factors and approaches:

 

IssueApproachesExplanation
Is there a limited word count or character count?Use more acronyms and initialisms where appropriate.Acronyms and initialisms reduce word counts and character counts.
Is the term used rarely in the text?Consider not using an acronym or initialism.Acronyms and initialisms are more effective for commonly used terms, and may be forgotten for rarely used terms.
Is the term not used again?Consider not using an acronym or initialism.An acronym or initialism is not required, and may increase length and effort.
Is the term short and simple?Consider not using an acronym or initialism.An acronym or initialism is not effective for shorter terms.
Is the term long or difficult?Consider using an acronym or initialism.An acronym or initialism reduces length and improves readability and ease of writing.
Can the acronym or initialism be confused with another?Consider not using one of these to avoid ambiguity.Typographic and reading errors can cause acronyms and initialisms to be mistaken.
Could the reader forget what the acronym or initialism means?Consider not using an acronym or initialism, or use a reintroduction or delayed introductionThe reader may forget what the acronym or initialism represents if it is not commonly used or was last used much earlier in the paper.
Is the reader being asked to remember too many letters?Reduce the number of acronyms and initialisms to only necessary ones.Too many initials can make a paper confusing or difficult to follow.

 

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