Should I use acronyms?

by John Chapman
(UK)

Some acronyms seem to be accepted - almost everyone would use '5,000 tons of TNT' rather than '5,000 tons of trinitrotoluene'. How about others though? How common must an acronym be before we use it in a book? For example should I write 'She checked her IM to see if he was online.' or write 'She checked her instant messaging program to see if he was online.'

Comments for Should I use acronyms?

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Mar 07, 2011
Acronyms?
by: Anonymous

That all depends on what you're writing. If it's a nonfiction piece, you should write out the whole thing. If you're writing a fictional piece, it would seem more realistic if you wrote the acronym instead.

Hope I helped!

Jan 01, 2009
When -- and how -- to use acronyms
by: Audrey

What a great question, John! I know that many other people wonder about this, too.

First of all, I would say there is a difference between how you handle acronyms in fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, I would be guided primarily by your audience. If I were writing for teens, I'd definitely say IM and leave it at that. If I were writing for their grandparents, I might use Instant Messaging.

Of course those grandparents have a wide range of interests in this area from zero to creating programs for computers, so you would also need to clarify which group of grandparents makes up your audience.

In nonfiction, I agree that acronyms like TNT are fine just as they are -- unless you are writing a scientific article that demands the full scientific name. Where the situation is not as clear, good practice is to spell out the term the first time with the acronym in parentheses, and then use the acronym for all following instances.

In nonfiction for people who didn't already know the term well, I would do this:

I'm just young enough to know what Instant Messaging (IM) means, and just old enough not to use it. But IM is becoming the means communication of the rest of the industrialized world, so I'd better get on board.

Audrey

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