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Abbreviations & Acronyms (APA 7th ed.)

Abbreviations and acronyms are commonly used in business writing because authors and their readers usually share an understanding of a professional context and the abbreviations used within it. The decision of when to use abbreviations and acronyms in academic writing can more complicated because readers of the work may not be as familiar as the author with the topic and its associated abbreviations. When readers are unfamiliar with acronyms, they will need to return repeatedly to the initial explanation of the abbreviation, which can be frustrating. Also, abbreviations can make comprehending text significantly more difficult for dyslexic readers (Enigk, 2012, para. 6). Finally, when text relies heavily on acronyms, the flow of the text can be affected as all caps text is more difficult to read (Strizver, n.d., para. 1). For example, the next two sentences could be difficult to understand without a familiarity of the acronyms commonly used at Royal Roads University: RRU’s SoB, which is in the FoM, offers the following programs: BBA, BCOM, MBA, and MGM. The capstone project for MGM students is the GMP, whereas MBA students complete OMPs.

The American Psychological Association (2020) offered the following advice regarding using abbreviations:"In general, use an abbreviation only (a) if it is conventional and readers is more familiar with the abbreviation than with the complete form and (b) considerable space can be saved and cumbersome repetition avoided" (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 107).

Similarly, regarding whether to use abbreviations for group authors within citations, "you are not obligated to abbreviate the name of a group author, but you can if the abbreviation is well-known, will help avoid cumbersome repetition, or will appear at least three times in the paper" (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 268). For more information on using abbreviations in in-text citations, please see Group Author Abbreviations by the American Psychological Association.

Assessing what abbreviations are conventional or familiar can be tricky as some abbreviations have different meanings; for example, AMA could refer to the American Medical Association, the Alberta Medical Association, or the Alberta Motor Association. Similarly, CIA could refer to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Culinary Institute of America, or the Cleveland Institute of Art. If you're not sure that your audience will understand the abbreviation as you're using it, spelling out the name every time will help the reader more easily understand the information.

For more information on abbreviations, please see Can I Use Abbreviations, Such as an Acronym, in My Text? (WriteAnswers FAQ), Abbreviations (American Psychological Association), and pages 172-178 in the seventh edition of the APA Style manual. If you have any questions about abbreviations or any other writing matter, please contact the Writing Centre as we'd be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Manager, Blended Learning Success

(Originally published in Crossroads February 24, 2016; updated with APA Style 7th ed. information September 2, 2020)

References

American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000

Enigk, E. (2012, November 8). Writing for dyslexic readers. Quick and Dirty Tips. https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/writing-for-dyslexic-...

Strizver, I. (n.d.). All caps: To set or not to set? Fonts.com. Retrieved from https://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fyti/situational-typography/all-caps