Acronyms are NOT Your Friend – A Podcast

By Michael Stelzner

FYI, here’s something you need to hear.

Simply said, acronyms are not friendly for readers.

Listen to my rant below.

Please let me know what you think!

BTW, as a side note, let me know what you think about these little podcasts…


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  • Rodger D. Johnson

    Your podcast is testament to plain ol’ good writing. (I know the “correct” ways I should have said that is “testament to writing well.” But there’s something to be said for being colloquial. )

    I say that because people like to hide behind words, camouflage messages in jargon and other cover-up writing techniques. Sometimes it’s because they either don’t have much to say, but feel they must say something. Or they want to appear superior in some way. That’s all bull.

    While the following example isn’t an acronym-laden sentence, it does speak to my larger point.

    “It is determining the content and the investment made in obtaining content that will attract an audience that is being played against the information that the mass media should be gathering and providing to an audience but is not because it is to costly to produce.”

    And that was written by a PhD. I’m not naming names, but I’d like to have the editor’s head of this book.

  • Michael Stelzner

    Roger – Amen brother! – Mike

  • Ted Grigg

    GREAT point you make about a major communication killer called the acronym. We’ve all fallen prey to it at some point even though it defies everything we know about writing to communicate.

    I remember well in a DMA :) (Direct Marketing Association) training course when I started my career that was taught by a gentleman called Dick Hogsden. He said that in direct response copy that you should always maintain the KISS :) (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle. As the writer, your job is to do the work for the reader by eliminating all barriers that might slow down or inhibit the message you want to convey.

    I’ve done a lot of consulting projects for health care industry regulators in the federal government. Talk about acronyms!!! It’s hard to imagine how anything useful happens within government where NON-communication has grown to become an art form.

  • Paul Dixon

    WTG! I mean, way to go! Acronyms are confusing in English, and if you’re translating, they’re even more of a problem. It is sad that large companies, such as Fidelity Investments and IBM, not only abound in acronyms, but also express great pride in them.

  • Michael Stelzner

    Ted and Paul;

    Repeat after me:

    Death to Acronyms!

    Death to Acronyms!



  • Webmaster marketplace

    If find it much quicker to read the actual meaning than it’s acronym. Excessive use is indeed very confusing.

  • http://home doug rosbury

    Michael, acronyms are a time saver and mostly a space saver for the writer,
    however they are used at the expense of simple communication. Also, I think
    they are a spurious badge of self importance. (look how important i am because i know all the acronyms). It is because of these elements of dumb
    writing that I agree with you that acronyms should only be used if they are
    accompanied by an expanded explanation or not used at all.
    By the way, michael, you would benefit greatly from some speech training
    in my opinion. You drop your g’s for one thing which is a common error in
    mass communications these days. For anyone like you who presents verbal
    thoughts to his public, your public image suffers with sloppy speech.
    A word of wisdom to one trying to improve his image should be sufficient.
    Sincerely, Doug Rosbury

  • Study Guide

    Michael, you raised a very good point (vitally important). Confused prospects simply don’t purchase, the whole purpose is to reach out to your audience not make them confused.

  • Lee Crisan

    As a techical writer, I’ve found that the use of acronyms to be quite pervasive. When writing in a new field, I often have to ask the experts what a particular unfamiliar acronym means or what it stands for. Surprise! They have been using the acronym for such a long time that they have forgotten what it stands for, but they reply “I know what it means.” Unfortunately, extracting a real definition for the acronym is something else.

  • Greg

    Great podcast! I abhor acronyms. And I’m not just talking about white papers. I work in a company where they use acronyms (and the word “leverage”) excessively. I’m constantly receiving emails that I’m clueless as to what they are talking about. It’s almost as if it’s a political move to use acronyms to “show” everyone that you’re hip and in the know. But it’s just annoying and a waste of time because I then have to email back asking them to clarify what they are talking about. I think the department I work in generates 3 new acronyms a week!

    Here’s an honest to goodness real example of an email I got today. Seriously. I’m not worried about sharing company secrets because I don’t think this will mean much of anything to much of anyone – it certainly didn’t to me. This was a 3 sentence email, of which this was the first sentence: “IDD is embarking on another HDV “pilot” with GSS.”

    Excellent! And the following two sentence did absolutely nothing to clear up any confusion. What a mess! Thanks for reading my rant.

  • Greg

    Oh, and to add, all good writing, when using any type of acronym, spells out the WHOLE phrase on its very first use, e.g.

    “I work in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). And in the field of HCI we blah blah blah……”.

    And then occasionally you should remind the reader of the meaning again, “Human Computer Interaction (HCI)”. Though if you are using a lot of unfamiliar acronyms, even this can be confusing and I’d recommend sticking to spelling it out each time.

    My 2 cents. ;-)

  • duane rueb

    Acronyms are truly the scource and bane of modern written communication. They are beligerantly presumtuous and rude. They are particularly offensive when they are identical but with different meanings. This can result in the worst communication possible, where the reader thinks he/she knows what is meant but is wrong.
    Unfortunately acronyms are the favorite method of communication in so many work places, where they are taken as an indication of expertise and up to the minute competence. If you can quote this weeks acronyms, you may be considered for a promotion over someone who speaks english.
    Accepted abbreviations are not the same thing and are positively wonderful compared to acronyms. Acronyms are sparse and hard to parse, so do not use them when you would like to be understood. When writing your white paper you should respect your reader enough to use real language, and avoid acronyms. What if Einstein had chosen to write with acronyms? Maybe then far fewer than 12 persons would have understood what he was saying. OK, to some, the math he used might as well have been acronyms, but physicists and math majors are supposed to be conversant in that language. Heck, sometimes even he needed the help of his good friend Basso to know just what to say in that language.
    Those persons who wish to be known as acronymically savvy, should be sure that they only attempt to communicate with others who think they are the same, that way they can keep it to themselves and second guess each other when they write their private dictionary and Thesaurus.

  • Debby Willett

    Acronyms! Currently I am in an MBA program reading much journal articles and texts for my specialization. These articles and textbooks are supposed to have been written in APA style for academic use.

    So not true. Greg suggested / reminded that when using acronyms in our writings we should repeat the full meaning of the acronym so our readers don’t get confused about what we have written. If only those authors who have written for the academic community would remember the very same thing.

    Sometimes they initiate the acronym from the article title and never repeat the full meaning again, leaving the reader – me! – searching and searching for what that darn thing means. And, these people were paid big bucks to be included in the academic texts, and supposed to be APA compliant.

    Ahhh, the things we must go through to achieve some goals …

  • Doug Rosbury

    Why don’t we just write in acronymal style and never spell any of our words?
    Acronym use is an ego trip. It’s a way to appear mysterious and “knowledgeable” It’s a shortcut for lazy writers.——Doug

  • advancement

    Acronyms are very popular today. I dont agree that they are for lazy writers or spikers. Acronyms are units of our speech and our language.
    And they are existed, so we must use it. But not so much.

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