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Acronyms old and new

How to handle acronyms in written English? This short article from the Government Campus UK course on Foundations of Writing gives an introduction.
A cloud of coloured bubbles - each one includes an acronym - such as ROI, SAAS, SLA, BAU and FOI.
© Government Campus

As with jargon, there’s no problem if everybody else knows what you mean. For example, in the United Kingdom (UK) you can use the acronyms UK, EU and USA without worrying too much about misunderstandings.

But if I refer to an MVP, do I mean Most Valued Player or Minimal Viable Product?

To give a government example, what if somebody told you the CoE have contacted the MoS about the ICC meeting?

Is this the Council of Europe writing to your Minister of State about the International Criminal Court?
Or has the Church of England just contacted the Mail on Sunday about the International Cricket Council?
If I put ‘lol’ at the end of a text, did I mean ‘lots of love’ or ‘laugh out loud’? (This should be common knowledge in the year 2023, but a former UK Prime Minister famously got confused on this one, and one of the course team has seen their mum get it wrong recently..)
Acronyms are best treated with care. As well as scanning your writing for jargon, you should scan for acronyms. Spell them out in full words, and then explain them further if they are still not clear.
In particular look out for:
  • business acronyms: BAU, AOB, fyi
  • Government acronyms: SoS, PO, DWP, MoD, DLUHC [UK examples]
  • 21st century acronyms: lol, tl;dr, imho, tbh, iirc, afaik
Of course a piece of writing will get very long if you keep on spelling out heavily-used acronyms in full.
The rule is: spell it out the first time, with the acronym in brackets, and then use the acronym after that.
For example:
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was established in 1927. The BBC now has over 20,000 staff. It also owns the company BBC Worldwide, which sells BBC programmes around the world..

And for 21st century acronyms – which can look silly spelt out in full – maybe save them for social media and messaging, unless you’re very confident of your audience.

In the next step we’ll ask you to look at common acronyms in your organisation.

Are there any acronyms that have tripped you up in the past? – are there any you are still confused about, or can never seem to remember? – do comment below.

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Foundations of Writing

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