Abbreviations in Writing

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Abbreviations in Writing

An abbreviation is a shortened version of a written word or phrase used to replace the original. For example:
  • Mr
  • RAF
  • Prof.
  • BBC
  • M.O.T.
Abbreviations usually fall into one of four categories:
  • Acronym. An abbreviation spoken like a word:
    • DOS
    • (Disk Operating System)
    • NAAFI
    • (Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes)
    • BOGOF
    • (Buy One Get One Free)
  • Contraction. A contracted version of a word (possibly using an apostrophe to replace any missing letters):
    • You're
    • (In full: You are)
    • Can't
    • (In full: Cannot)
    • Mr.
    • (In full: Mister)
  • Initial Abbreviation (or Initialism). An abbreviation (usually written with capital letters) with each letter usually representing one word:
    • AQI
    • (Air Quality Index)
    • MLRS
    • (Multiple Launch Rocket System)
    • ITV
    • (Independent Television)
  • Syllabic abbreviation.
  • An abbreviation formed from the initial syllables of multiple words:
    • Interpol
    • (International Police)
    • Opint
    • (Operational Intelligence)
    • (International Maritime Satellite)

Full Stops (Periods) in Abbreviations

Abbreviations can be written with or without full stops (periods). For example:
  • BBC
  • B.B.C.
If you're writing the name of a company (like the BBC or BUPA), you should try to use whatever version the company uses. The BBC is inconsistent with its use. Sometimes, it uses BBC. Sometimes, it uses B.B.C.

For neatness, you should try to be consistent throughout your document.

BUPA is consistently written by BUPA without full stops (periods). Therefore, you should write BUPA and not B.U.P.A. (This trumps your striving to be consistent.)

Read more about full stops (periods) in abbreviations.

Full Stops (Periods) in Contractions

Contractions like Dr. and Prof. are often followed by full stops (periods). This is a ruling in America. Outside America, the guideline is to use a full stop (period) only if the last letter of the contraction is different from the last letter of the whole word. For example:
  • Dr.    ()   ()
  • Dr    ()   ()
  • Prof.    ()   ()
  • Prof    ()   ()
Read more about Full stops (periods) in contractions.

It's Not an Acronym. It's an Abbreviation!

BBC and CNN are not acronyms. They are not spoken like words. Lots of people use the word acronym when they mean abbreviation.

The Golden Rule

When writing abbreviations, choose a convention you like and be consistent throughout your document.

Read more about being consistent with abbreviations.

Take a longer test on abbreviations.