proper use of acronyms

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The first time you mention the name or term, write it out, then put the acronym in parentheses. (AP may tell you otherwise, but, their stylistic perversity merits its own post.) So it's going to look like this:

I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Ha ha! You are so funny, I'm laughing out loud (LOL).
Let me give you a quick note on acronyms (AQNoA).

But there are some things to remember:
  1. If the name or term is only used once, don't bother providing the acronym. The purpose of an acronym is that you don't have to write out long names or terms that occur frequently in your piece; if they only occur once, you have no need for an acronym.
  2. Letters that stand for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are generally capitalized. Letters that stand for prepositions, conjunctions, and articles generally lowercase, unless they're the first word in the acronym. This is easier to show with an example, so we'll use ours--a quick note on acronyms (AQNoA): The first word is "a," which is an article and hence would usually be lowercase, but since it's the first word in the acronym, we capitalize it. "On" is a preposition, so we make the "o" lowercase. "Quick" is an adjective while "Note" and "Acronym" are nouns, so we capitalize the "q," "n," and "a."
  3. If the official acronym capitalizes everything (EPCOT, for example, stands for "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" and capitalizes every letter in the acronym despite "of" being a preposition), go with the official acronym.
  4. You shouldn't make up your own acronyms -- granted sometimes this can make it easier for the reader to understand, but generally you shouldn't.
  5. And for heaven's sake: If you need to pluralize your acronym, just add an -s or -es -- not an apostrophe!