Having immersed myself in the wonderful world of acronyms for a project that I’m working on at the moment, I must say I’ve never felt so passionate about the user experience of using acronyms. I’ve been asking myself questions and answering them: 1) What are acronyms?
2) Why use acronyms?
The use of acronyms is very common in certain disciplines – medicine, law, finance, and engineering just to name a few. In fact, just scouring Google Scholar for a few minutes returned several academic papers criticising the use of acronyms and taught me some new words – ‘acronymania’ and ‘acronymophilia’ to describe the manic use of acronyms; ‘acronymesis’ to emphasise the shortcomings of misusing acronyms. One of my favourite quotes was from a paper criticising a medical paper which contained 27 acronyms. It nicely sums up why acronyms can sometimes hinder rather than help the communication and understanding of a subject matter: “Although each acronym is defined when introduced (in the paper), few readers of this article will manage to remember the meaning of each while following the logic of the authors' discussion. To do so would require immediate comprehension of 27 new terms, each used repeatedly but defined only once before its first use in a detailed, complex argument.” Apply this scenario to a real conversational context – say a board room meeting with a group of multidisciplinary professionals (gathered together to create a better world). Will the communication during the meeting be as effective as it could have been if everyone actually conveyed exactly what they meant instead of using acronyms? Something to ponder upon perhaps?
Surely there are ways to get around the manic use of acronyms where one can still cater for those who are ‘in the know’ as well as people who are ‘new to the field’?
Next time you’re tempted to use an acronym, try this little exercise and ask yourself how much you have learnt after finding out that:
… and my favourite so far
Last but not least, an acronym can also mean different things to different people, for example: