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Style Manual

Abbreviations

Abbreviations are shortened words. They can hinder people’s understanding, so they have limited uses.

Limit the use of abbreviations

Abbreviations contain the first single letter or first few letters of a word. They don’t include the last letter of a word.

Example

app for ‘appendix’

cont for ‘continued’

p for ‘page’

para for ‘paragraph’

Abbreviations are generally not good for readability and can be misunderstood. Avoid using them in general text where possible.

Like this

Thank you for your email about the errors in the third paragraph of the webpage ‘How to apply for a special use permit’.

Not this

Thank you for your email about the errors in the third para of the webpage ‘How to apply for a special use permit’.

Abbreviations are useful in very limited circumstances:

  • in a table or chart, where space is unavailable for the full form of the word – provide a note under the table or chart giving the full form

  • when using ‘cont’ to show continuing text in another part of content (for example, on another page of a print newsletter) – the full form of the word is more helpful where space allows.

Semi-formal and informal content uses abbreviations more often. Use abbreviations only if users will understand what they mean. If there’s any doubt, define the abbreviation on first use.

Avoid using abbreviations in any public-facing content.

Accessibility requirements

Avoid (or explain) unusual words, phrases, idioms and so on. 

WCAG quick reference:

Don’t put a full stop after most abbreviations

Don’t place a full stop after an abbreviation.

There are exceptions:

  • when the abbreviation ends a sentence and isn’t followed by another punctuation mark
  • for abbreviations of scientific names for plants and animals
  • for the abbreviation ‘n.d.’(meaning ‘no date’) for the year of publication in references.
Example

It’s listed as a container of ‘misc goods’. [No full stop after the abbreviation]

The full name of the company is Sizzling Outback Tours Inc. [A full stop after the abbreviation ends the sentence]

Have you reviewed the relevant para? [No full stop after the abbreviation: another punctuation mark ends the sentence]

Xanthorrhoea glauca subsp. angustifolia [Full stop in the abbreviation for ‘subspecies’]

Office of Parliamentary Counsel (n.d.) Glossary, Federal Register of Legislation website, accessed 12 January 2020. [No date of publication on this webpage]

Capitalise the same way as the spelt-out version

Use the same capitalisation as for the unabbreviated word.

Example

misc for ‘miscellaneous’

Dec for ‘December’

Don’t abbreviate the first word in a sentence

Write out the abbreviated term in full.

Example

Appendix B explains this further. [Not ‘App B’]

Add ‘s’ to create plural abbreviations

Add an ‘s’. One exception is ‘pp’ (pages), which is used when referring to multiple pages.

Example

I’ve sent you some paras to check.

Refer to pp 58–64.

Release notes

The digital edition recommends avoiding use of abbreviations in general text, and in any public-facing content. It follows the Content Guide’s advice to avoid using Latin shortened forms.

The digital edition lists common shortened forms and provides advice on the limited circumstances where they could be used and how to punctuate them. 

This is a departure from advice in the sixth edition, which listed ‘thoroughly anglicised’ shortened forms used regularly in publications. It did not explicitly warn against their use. The sixth edition recommended against using ‘i.e.’, ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’ in paragraph text and in formal content.

The digital edition removes the sixth edition requirement to use full stops with non-Latin abbreviations. Exceptions to this rule are:

The new general rule is supported by corpus information checked with the Australian National Dictionary Centre. It is consistent with the recommendation to use minimal punctuation. The removal of full stops affects style for abbreviations of:

About this page

References

Btb Translation Bureau (n.d.) ‘1: abbreviations’, The Canadian style, Btb Translation Bureau website, accessed 4 May 2020.

Content Design London (2019) ‘Abbreviations and acronyms’, Content Design London Readability Guidelines, Content Design London website, accessed 30 March 2020.

GOV.UK (2016) ‘A-to-Z: abbreviations and acronyms’, Style guide, GOV.UK, accessed 9 September 2020.

Hales A, Williams K and Rector J (February 2017) ‘Alienating the audience: how abbreviations hamper scientific communication’, Association for Psychological Science, accessed 7 January 2020.

Lieberman C (17 January 2006) ‘Accessibility hat trick: getting abbreviations right’, A List Apart, accessed 7 January 2020.

Sehl K (24 April 2019) ‘The ultimate list of social media acronyms and abbreviations’, Hootsuite Blog, accessed 8 January 2020.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (2020) ‘4.4: abbreviations and acronyms’, Canada.ca content style guide, Canada.ca, accessed 4 May 2020.

United States Government (n.d.) ‘Minimize abbreviations’, Plain language guidelines, plainlanguage.gov.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) (n.d.) ‘G102: providing the expansion or explanation of an abbreviation’, Techniques for WCAG 2.0, W3C website, accessed 7 January 2020.

W3C (n.d.) ‘H28: providing definitions for abbreviations by using the abbr element’, Techniques for WCAG 2.0, W3C website, accessed 7 January 2020.

W3C (n.d.) ‘PDF8: Providing definitions for abbreviations via an E entry for a structure element’, Techniques for WCAG 2.0, W3C website, accessed 7 January 2020.

W3C (n.d.) ‘Understanding Success Criterion 3.1.4: abbreviations’, Understanding WCAG 2.1, W3C website, accessed 5 May 2020.

This page was updated Tuesday 8 September 2020.

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