OMG! LOL! How to Use Acronyms Properly in Your Writing

How to Use Acronyms Properly

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We live in a world of acronyms. They are everywhere, even in our text messages—OMG LOL (oh my gosh laugh out loud). In the business world, you can expect all sorts of abbreviations used willy-nilly with the assumption that everyone who sees them knows what they mean, but that is far from the case. 


Acronyms are abbreviations that combine certain letters within a phrase (usually the initial letters) into a new, often pronounceable, word. 

People who have been working in their industry for years tend to just throw out an acronym without context or explanation. 

Fill out your TPS report. 

Those of us who train don’t have that luxury. Instead, we in learning and development (that’s L&D to you) need to ensure that everyone can understand our message, and we can tell you, it’s really the best practice in any context, especially when that context involves writing.  

Bottom line: even if it is the easiest, simplest, most universal acronym on this planet, you still need to provide the full term BEFORE or as you use every single acronym. After all, it never hurts to make sure your reader is able to understand your language. Observe: 

This titan of industry has now won the WOW Award. 


This titan of industry has now won the Worst of the Worst (WOW) Award. 

It really changes the message, doesn’t it? 

… and Capitalization 

Now that you know to use the full term at first use of an acronym or abbreviation, there’s one tiny additional thing to keep in mind. Just because the letters of the acronym are capitalized, that does NOT mean those letters should be capitalized in the full term. You should only capitalize proper nouns and words that begin a sentence. 

The WOW Award is a proper noun, as awards always are. However, most of the time, your acronym is describing something pretty regular, generic even. We had to Laugh Out Loud (LOL), for example, looks pretty ridiculous. 

Make sure learners understand the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) by relating content directly to their jobs. 

When crafting the really noteworthy memes, it is vital to use graphics interchange format (GIF). 

Anyone who knows Tony Stark understands that WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). 


That’s when Agent Carter founded the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (SHIELD). 

Industry Terms 

On a related note, acronyms aren’t the only terms that can cause confusion in business communication. There are plenty of terms that get used within industries or between industries that aren’t widely known by the public at large. Don’t be the one forcing your new hire to ask what a white paper is. (It’s a report by the way, and as that new hire once-upon-a-time, I can tell you it was mortifying to have to ask.) Define your terms on first use, so everyone understands your message without involving Google. 

Have questions? We’re always here to help. Feel free to reach out.

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