Wick Communications

IMHO, too many ABCs

In Writing techniques on 21 Mar 2013 at 4:22 pm


Reporters and editors at one of our papers last week hoped readers knew CAP, BOR, ADWR, NAMI, AHCCS and GOP. Another paper included a SWAT, a PILT and the dreaded M.C.O.A. in it’s A section. Not to be outdone, another Wick paper had a PACE, a STAR and a WBEA in a single story.

What? You mean you didn’t know WBEA stood for Williston Basin Eyecare Associates?

Friends, acronyms are a pox on our collective house. Governments love them. Cops rattle them off. Courthouses are built on a foundation of capital letters. Too often, we write like newsmakers rather than explaining all that gobbledygook to readers. We know that we can use many of these ugly acronyms on second reference. Some, like GOP, are even specifically listed in the stylebook as allowable on second reference.

But just because you can use them doesn’t mean you should. There is almost always a more clear choice.

For example, here in Half Moon Bay we have the Coastside Adult Day Health Center … or CADHC. I can’t remember the last time I used the acronym. On second reference, I just call it “the center.” See how that works? …

One of two things happens with acronyms. As a reader, either you instantly recognize it and just sort of read right over it, or you are SOL. If you don’t know the acronym, you have no chance of understanding the story. For that reason, I would limit their use to those things you know are very widely known in your community, whether they are global brands (NCAA, U.N., etc.) or local icons.

A couple more points on acronyms:

  • Don’t list them in parenthesis. I see this kind of construction all the time:

The county board of commissioners appointed Smith to the County Student Advisory Board (CSAB).

If you are going to use an acronym, simply use it on the second reference.

  • Some are proper names. For example the stylebook says AARP and AMVETS have officially replaced their old clunkier names.
  • If you are going to use one, make sure you spell it out on first reference.
  • Never use one that is longer than four letters. You’ll feel better about yourself.
  1. Thank you Clay. I will be forwarding a link to some of our freelancers.

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