7 Rules for Acronyms


An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of each word of a compound term. The word is pronounced as spelt and no full stops are used. 

Writing Tip: Try not to use unfamiliar acronyms in your introductory paragraph. This side-tracks readers from your story.

Seven Rules for Acronyms

  1. An acronym is usually written in uppercase. Examples: AWOL, LOL
  2. If the acronym has four letters or more and is pronounceable, we may use upper- and lowercase. Examples: Aids, Nasa, Interpol
  3. Contemporary acronyms do not need full stops. Examples: NATO, Scuba
  4. The contemporary rule is to write out the full name when first mentioned (with the acronym in brackets). Use only the acronym after this. Example: ‘The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will decide on the issue. NATO leadership is made up of…’ 
  5. Some acronyms are so familiar we can assume readers recognise them. We do not need to write them out. Examples: Aids, Unicef. Many acronyms have become standard words. Examples: radar (radio detection and ranging), scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus),laser (light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation)
  6. Use ‘an’ in place of ‘a’ when the article precedes a vowel sound. It’s ‘an honour’ (the h is silent), but ‘a Unicef’ issue (it’s pronounced ‘yoo’). It’s the sound that matters.
  7. The word ‘the’ is unnecessary before some acronyms pronounced as words. Examples: Interpol, NATO 

If you enjoyed this post, read Abbreviations, Acronyms and Initialisms

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