How do I handle abbreviations and acronyms?
Names of organisations or policy plans can be long and cumbersome in text
and conversation. Hence we tend to abbreviate them to save space or time.
However, acronyms create a jargon that can be hard to understand for
outsiders. Good and clear academic writing assumes a reader who has a
general academic training, but lacks specialised knowledge of your topic of
writing. Hence you need to be careful with abbreviations, even if they have
become very familiar to you.
Limit the use of acronyms
If you address a non-specialist audience, try to reduce the number of
acronyms in a text to the minimum. For example, organisation names that you
only use once, will not have to be abbreviated. If you use them twice, then
perhaps you can avoid the second one with "this organisation" or some other
reference. In many cases, over-enthusiastic writers include acronyms that
are not essential for the analysis. These can be refered to footnotes or
even left out altogether.
The first time you use an acronym, you should use the full name and the
acronym in brackets, e.g.:
"According to a report of the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP), the levels of..."
Later in the text, you can then assume the acronym to be known and only
use the abbreviation. If an acronym only returns in your text much further,
you may even want to remind the reader of the full name.
List of abbreviations
If there are a lot of acronyms in your text (let us say more than five),
then you may want to include a list of abbreviations to help the reader.
This should list all the acronmys used in your text alphabetically. Such a
list is often included in the beginning of the text, so the reader knows
this resource is available before, rather than after reading the text.
Common abbreviations are not introduced
Abbreviations that are commonly used in English do not have to be
introduced. For example: e.g., etc., BBC, km. For a technical audience, you
can assume that abbreviations of commonly used technical measures are known,
such as ppm and ppb, but rather include the explanation (parts per million,
parts per billion) in case of doubt.