Acronyms and initialisms are shortened forms. They replace full names and special terms in text. Use them only if people recognise and understand them.
Choose acronyms and initialisms people will recognise
Acronyms comprise the initial letters (and sometimes syllables) of the words in a term and are pronounced as a word.
Initialisms comprise the initial letters (or sounds) of the words in a term and are pronounced as letters, not as a word.
Some shortened forms are a combination of an initialism and an acronym.
Acronyms and initialisms are common in formal content. If understood by users, they can make content easier to use. They communicate terms in as few letters as possible to make content easier and faster to read.
- CSIRO for ‘Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’
- HTML for ‘hypertext markup language’
When preparing content for well-established publications, such as professional journals, look at the author guidelines and examples of the content. This will show whether using acronyms and initialisms is appropriate and, if so, which shortened forms are used.
Explain acronyms and initialisms to all users
People unfamiliar with certain terms might not understand their shortened forms. Acronyms and initialisms might also be misread by screen readers.
To make sure all shortened forms are accessible:
- Define them the first time you use them in content (unless you’re certain all users will understand them without a definition – consult a dictionary first).
- Include them with their spelt-out forms in the glossary. This is particularly important if the content contains many specialist shortened forms.
Spell out most acronyms on first use
If there’s a chance users won’t know the meaning of an acronym or initialism, define it at first mention. Write the term in full first and follow with the acronym or initialism in parentheses. Use the shortened form rather than the full term for later mentions.
- The Department of Social Services (DSS) manages a range of benefits and payments for eligible Australians. DSS helps support communities through a number of programs and services.
Write well-known acronyms or initialisms first and follow with the full term in parentheses.
- All living organisms have DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) within their cells. DNA tells cells what proteins to make.
You don’t need to define some acronyms and initialisms on first use. These include:
- some place names (NT, ACT)
- time of day (am, pm)
- some organisational names (BHP, Qantas)
- terms that began as acronyms but are now words in their own right (radar, scuba, sonar).
Repeat the full term if the user needs it
If you use the shortened form only a few times in long-form content, consider writing out the full term more than once.
People could come across the shortened form without reading the text where it is first defined. For example, a user might click straight to a section that only includes the shortened form.
Check the correct shortened form for government organisations
The names of government departments are often shortened, but not always in the same way.
- DVA (Department of Veterans’ Affairs)
- Home Affairs (Department of Home Affairs)
Rather than using acronyms or initialisms, it can be easier for people if you:
- spell out the agency’s name in full the first time you use it
- then use the generic name (‘department’, ‘agency’, ‘bureau’) afterwards.
This is usually more useful to non-specialist users.
- The Bureau of Meteorology prepares Australia’s official weather forecasts. The bureau provides its forecasts on its website.
- The Department of Finance is in Canberra. The department supports government financial management.
Include a list if content relies on many acronyms and initialisms
For content with many specialised acronyms and initialisms, provide a glossary – a list of terms and their meaning that users can refer to.
Include the glossary at the end of the content or on a separate webpage. Use a hyperlink in the text to help people access the glossary.
You don’t need to include a glossary if:
- there are only a few unfamiliar shortened forms
- each one is only in a very limited section of text
- each one is spelt out when first mentioned.
The glossary usually appears before the references (with the endmatter).
Don’t end acronyms and initialisms with a full stop
Don’t place a full stop after the acronym or initialism.
The exception is if the shortened form ends a sentence and isn’t followed by another punctuation mark.
- Will you be attending COAG this month? [No full stop after the acronym]
- I’m working on a B2B project at the moment. [No full stop after the initialism]
- She’s now working in FOI. [A full stop after the initialism that ends the sentence]
- Is the company being investigated by ASIC? [No full stop after the acronym because another punctuation mark ends the sentence]
Use capitals for most acronyms and initialisms
Acronyms are usually all capitals, but use lower case for some familiar acronyms (taser, captcha, laser). Use an initial capital for familiar acronyms that are proper nouns (Qantas, Anzac).
Initialisms are often all upper case (VOIP, FOI) but there are exceptions (bpm). Consult a dictionary if you’re unsure of the capitalisation.
If the acronym or initialism represents common nouns, don’t begin each word of the full form with a capital letter.
- EIS for ‘environmental impact statement’
- TB for ‘tuberculosis’
If the acronym or initialism represents a proper noun, start each word with a capital letter (excluding words such as ‘of’ and ‘and’).
- ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation]
- OPC [Office of Parliamentary Counsel]
- NSW [New South Wales]
- ILSC [Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation]
Avoid plural and possessive forms on the first use
Avoid using the plural or possessive of an acronym or initialism when you define it. This makes it easy for users to recognise the shortened form in later content.
- It’s compulsory for certain businesses to have an Australian Business Number (ABN). The Australian Business Register manages applications for ABNs. [There’s no need to use an apostrophe before the ’s’ for ABNs as the term is plural, not possessive.]
- The Australian National University (ANU) has a new student policy. The ANU’s policy is popular with its staff and students. [Use an apostrophe before the ’s’ to show that the ANU owns the policy.]
Quote acronyms and initialisms the same way as the speaker
When quoting an exact phrase, write exactly what the speaker said. If they used an acronym or initialism, quote it. Show the full term in square brackets if users might not recognise the term or if you haven’t already explained it.
- ‘We’re continuing to manage the number of SES [Senior Executive Service] to ensure the Public Service isn’t top heavy,’ he said.
As well as the initial letters of words, definitions in the digital edition allow for initial syllables for acronyms and initial sounds for initialisms. The sixth edition included ‘and sometimes other letters’ in its definitions for acronyms and initialisms.
The digital edition updates punctuation style for shortened forms.
- It removes the requirement to use full stops with non-Latin abbreviations.
- Consistent with what was Content Guide advice, it recommends avoiding the use of Latin shortened forms.
- Consistent with the sixth edition, it does not use full stops with acronyms or initialisms, or contractions.
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 Content Guide mentions shortened words and phrases but did not provide detailed advice. It advised to avoid using Latin shortened forms, in line with the guidance in this edition of Style Manual.
About this page
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This page was updated Thursday 8 December 2022.