Advice about acronymsPosted on: August 22, 2014 Posted in: Tips for better PLE
Acronyms – or abbreviations formed from the initial letters or other words and pronounced as a separate word – are more and more common in everyday speech and text. As anyone who deals with government agencies or legal bodies knows, they sometimes take on a life of their own. For example, the word “laser” started off as an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”?
Acronyms can be useful and they are really common in legal information, but your audience needs to understand them.
If you have to use acronyms, be sure to give the full word or phrase first followed by the acronym in parentheses. For example, on first reference you’d write Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and then refer to CRA after that. This is also helpful if your readers will hear people talking about CRA rather than the full name.
If the information you’re producing is long and divided into sections that not everyone will read, you may need to repeat the full word or phrase followed by the acronym more than once. Never assume that your readers will understand an acronym or abbreviation – what might seem like universal knowledge to you may not be to others, especially newcomers to Canada. (Some francophones may also not understand common English acronyms – for example, the acronym for CRA in French is “ARC”.)
Be careful of short forms that you use with colleagues that are not commonly used by others. Remember – if it’s not widely used, it’s not useful! For example, you might refer to the Social Benefits Tribunal as the SBT. But documents from the Social Benefits Tribunal and workers at other organizations may not use that short form. Then, it’s best to avoid that acronym and use the term that your readers will most likely come across.
See CLEO’s Better Legal Information Handbook more information on clear language writing.