Invent This – Eliminate Acronymese

Whether you're reading a Government document, technical manual, engineering documentation, or an internal memo, acronyms make a document virtually unreadable unless the person reading is intimately familiar with each and every acronym listed. I have personally had to read draft after draft of documents that have acronyms defined on the first page, but never defined thereafter. I have found myself reading a paragraph over and over, having to flip back to the first page so I could loosely interpret what the author is trying to say. Continue Reading...

Whether you’re reading a Government document, technical manual, engineering documentation, or an internal memo, acronyms make a document virtually unreadable unless the person reading is intimately familiar with each and every acronym listed.

I have personally had to read draft after draft of documents that have acronyms defined on the first page, but never defined thereafter. I have found myself reading a paragraph over and over, having to flip back to the first page so I could loosely interpret what the author is trying to say.

For those of us reading on the web, there is something called an acronym tag that can be used for each acronym. Simply hovering over an acronym will reveal what the acronym means. For example: USPS.

To get an idea of how bad acronyms are, check out this medical acronym dictionary. There must be a better way.

It would be nice if Microsoft Word had a built in acronym builder. Each organization would keep track of the acronyms and the definitions. Whenever a document is created, acronyms that have been previously defined are given a special underline. Hovering over the acronym in the document reveals the acronym’s definition.

There is a tool called AcroWizard that does this now, but the chances that a Government organization will use this type of tool is small due to the tremendous IT headache it might cause. The solution must come from Microsoft.

For those that are pro-acronym, here are my reasons why acronyms are such a big problem:

Acronyms Don’t Help Communication

For a person of a medical or government background, acronyms are a way of life. Try explaining what you do to someone not familiar with your government or medical organization without using acronyms. Sometimes it is impossible. A lot of the times, we have forgotten what the acronym means.

Acronyms Hinder Accessibility and Readability

It is difficult to read a document laden with acronyms. It’s even harder if the person reading the document has some kind of disability. If a person is listening to a document via screen reader, defining the acronyms on the first page is meaningless. Acronyms must be defined as they appear on the page.

What are your thoughts on this?

3 thoughts on “Invent This – Eliminate Acronymese”

  1. Excellent solution for soft copies. The software wouldn't necessarily have to be Microsoft, but it would have to be JITC certified for IA compliance. (and no, I'm not going to explain the acros) 🙂

    The problem remains with hard copies. We'd have to have chips embedded in our heads that put the pop-up definition on our retinas. Now, that would be scary. Going back to reality, soft copies have to be formatted for printing, thus putting us right back where we started.

    If we lived in a paperless world, that would probably work. 🙂

    cetroyer

  2. I was talking to a co-worker today about the acronym problem and the potential solutions. He brought up an interesting point that acronyms may help out our national security since it is so difficult to decipher the acronyms and their meanings.

    It is valid argument until you factor in that there are some people defending our nation that also have trouble deciphering the acronyms and their meanings.

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