A shortened phrase is an abbreviation of a group of words form a phrase or name that have been contracted for ease of writing. They are especially useful in essays and theses that repeat the same phrase or name many times. Understanding their correct usage can help avoid errors and confusion, and add to the polished appearance of your document. There are two types of shortened phrases: acronyms and initialisms.
An acronym is a shortened phrase that usually contains the first letter of each word from a phrase. An acronym is pronounced as a word, for example: ‘SACE’ and ‘CAPA’.
An initialism is similar to an acronym; however, it is not pronounced like a word—each letter is pronounced as though it is being spelt-out. Some common initialisms include: ‘UN’, ‘USA’ and ‘NSW’.
Each letter in an acronym or initialism should be capitalised. The only exception to the rule of capitalising shortened phrases is if an acronym is well known and is used like a proper name, for example, ‘Qantas’ and ‘sonar’.
Full stops should not be used between the individual letters in a shortened phrase. The only exception to this rule is if an initialism has been used in a heading that consists of uppercase words. In this instance, full stops would be used between the individual letters of the initialism to prevent it from being read as a word, for example: ‘MAJOR VICTORY FOR U.S.’.
The expanded version of a shortened phrase should not always be capitalised, the normal rules of capitalisation apply. To make a shortened phrase plural, a plural ‘s’ is added without an apostrophe.
It is important to introduce a shortened phrase in the first instance it is used in a document, even if the shortened version is common. This is achieved by writing the expanded version of the phrase, followed by the acronym or initialism in brackets. For example, ‘The United Nations (UN) press release stated … ’. Thereafter, the initialism ‘UN’ would be used for the remainder of the document.
The same rule applies for theses: if a shortened form has been introduced in a previous chapter, it does not need to be introduced again. The only exception is the abstract of a thesis. Any shortened phrase that has been introduced in the abstract must be introduced again the first time it is used in the body of the thesis. In addition, if your thesis uses many shortened phrases, you should include a ‘List of Abbreviations’ in the preliminary pages of your thesis.
Did you know, the longest acronym in the English language contains 22 letters? It is ‘ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC’ and stands for ‘Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command’. However, this is dwarfed by the world’s longest initialism, which contains 56 letters: ‘NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT’. It stands for ‘The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’.
You should now have a clearer idea of shortened forms and know how to use them correctly. Remember, you must always introduce acronyms and initialisms, even if they are commonly used. They do not use full stops, unless an initialism appears in an uppercase heading and may be confused for a word. Using shortened phrases correctly will certainly add to the polished appearance of your essay or thesis.