The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communication

By Amy Einsohn | Go to book overview

9
Abbreviations, Acronyms, and Symbols

Abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols are shortcuts that help authors save space. By uncluttering the text, these shortcuts can also facilitate comprehension. Consider, for example, the following sentence, which is to appear in a document for the general public:

Researchers are examining samples of deoxyribonucleic acid in an effort to determine why some people who test positive for human immunodeficiency virus do not develop acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Here, replacing the three scientific terms with acronyms1 will help readers because most nonscientists are more familiar with the acronyms than with the spelled-out forms.

Revision: Researchers are examining DNA samples in an effort to determine why some people who test positive for HIV do not develop AIDS.

Indeed, despite the schoolbook injunction “Never use abbreviations in formal writing, some abbreviations, acronyms, and signs are routinely used in formal writing.

____________________
1
Some authorities reserve acronym for those initialisms that are pronounced as words, rather than as a series of letters. Thus HIV, DNA, and AIDS are all initialisms, but only the last is an acronym. In general usage, however, acronym is used to denote both groups.

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