How to define abbreviations in a document

How do you abbreviate Document? There are two common ways to abbreviate document.

They are,

For example,

  • Word doc.
  • Contract docum.

Of these two abbreviations, doc is the more popular abbreviation. The plural abbreviation of document is docs. or docums.

When to Use This Abbreviation

This abbreviation is commonly found in office communications, in the legal profession, or as a file extension on a computer program. You might abbreviate the word document to doc. in an interoffice email, in casual correspondence, or in shorthand note taking. It is also common to see such abbreviations in headlines or newspaper titles where space is a concern.

Outside of headlines, newspaper titles, or TV news banners, the word is not abbreviated in general prose.

What Does Document Mean?

How to Define Abbreviations in a DocumentDefinition of Document: Document is defined as a piece of written, printed, or electronic matter that provides information or evidence or that serves as an official record; record (something) in written, photographic, or other form.

For example,

  • According to the document in front of me, you are 100% incorrect.
  • Lindsay will document every movement of the dancers so the choreographer can make the desirable changes.

The word document functions as a noun and a verb, respectively, in the sentences above.

Outside Examples of Document

  • How to Define Abbreviations in a DocumentThe document “urges the government of China to respect Tibetan people’s right to self-determination, safeguard their human rights and their pristine environment, and to immediately resume dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration.” –Minneapolis Star Tribune

Acronyms and Initialisms

There is a time and place for everything and using initialisms and acronyms is no exception. The whole point of using these forms of abbreviation in your business writing is to make your writing clearer. However, if you misuse or abuse initialisms and/or acronyms, you'll accomplish just the opposite, turning your memos and manuals into a confusing brew.

What is an initialism?

Essentially, initialisms are shorter forms of words or phrases that can come in handy when you need to repeat the same word or phrase a number of times throughout the same piece of writing.

They are pronounced as a series of letters. For example, “World Trade Organization” is often written as “WTO.

” You can see how writing the three-letter initialism can save you a lot of time and keep your business document from sounding repetitive.

What is an acronym?

An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or phrase. It is pronounced as if it were a word.

Examples of common acronyms include “SARS” (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and “UNICEF” (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund)—imagine having to write that out each time in a 10-page document on the organization's initiative to improve educational opportunities for young girls in Africa!

Important things to consider before using an initialism or acronym

Outline what the initialism or acronym means

Short forms aren't always the best way to avoid redundancies.

So, if you're going to use initialisms and/or acronyms in your business writing, remember: The first time you use an initialism or acronym in your document, the words should be written out with the short form placed in parentheses immediately after. This way, it's clear to the readers exactly what the letters mean. Here's an example:

A New World Order (NWO) came into effect after 9/11.

Be consistent

Readers will then be aware that any future reference to the “NWO” in your document really refers to the New World Order. After you've established an initialism or acronym in your paper, you must consistently use the short form in place of the words.

Stick to one definition of the initialism or acronym

Always clarify in your own mind the exact definition of each acronym you use. If you define SEM as “scanning electron microscopy” (which is a process), your acronym should refer only to the process throughout your paper. For example, the following sentence would be incorrect if included in the same paper:

We used an SEM in our experiments.

If you've already defined SEM as standing for the process, you cannot use SEM to refer to the item (i.e., a scanning electron microscope, which you use to perform the process of scanning electron microscopy), even though the first letters of each word are the same. In short, the same initialism or acronym can only refer to one thing in a document.

Don't forget about using articles

Remember that many initialisms or acronyms still require articles (i.e., “a,” “an,” or “the”). Let's use the New World Order again:

  • Incorrect: NWO has emerged in the 21st century.
  • Correct: An NWO has emerged in the 21st century.
  • Remember that NWO stands for a noun “New World Order,” and nouns require articles before them.

If you're confused about whether to use “a” or “an” in front of an initialism or acronym that begins with a consonant, remember to speak the abbreviated form aloud.

If the first letter of the initialism or acronym makes a vowel sound (regardless of whether or not the first letter is actually a vowel), you should use “an.” The acronym “NWO” is a perfect example.

While “N” is a consonant, it makes the short e sound (i.e., a vowel sound) when you say it. Consequently, “an” should be used.

Check to see if there is already an established initialism or acronym for your phrase

It's also important to remember that while you can sometimes make up initialisms or acronyms, there are many words/phrases that require abbreviating that are already established and universal. There are a number of online dictionaries you can use to search for commonly used initialisms and acronyms.

Initialisms and acronyms in academic writing

If you're using initialisms and/or acronyms in academic writing, remember that some scientific journals require you to introduce initialisms and acronyms once in the abstract of your article and then again upon the first use in the body of the article. Should you be unsure about how to use initialisms or acronyms when writing an academic article, please refer to your journal's specific requirements.

See also:  "into" versus "in to"

Too many initialisms and acronyms can turn your business writing into alphabet soup

Please remember that acronyms should only be used for words or phrases that are repeated a number of times throughout your document. If you use too many initialisms and acronyms, readers will become confused. Here's an example of extreme initialism/acronym usage in a press release:

In the US, the notion of an NWO became popular after the terrorist attacks on the WTC. However, officials in NATO and the WTO rarely refer to an NWO in proceedings relating to the GATT, and it can be said that the MVTO, the MFN clause, and SROs have little to do with an NWO.

As you can see, too many initialisms and acronyms can make your writing more difficult to understand. If numerous acronyms are necessary, we recommend including a glossary of initialisms/acronyms; your readers may then refer to it if they become confused.

TTYL—Save your casual initialisms and for text messages

Finally, while you may often be rotfl with your bff about the Chem hw that you need to get done asap, please remember that initialisms and acronyms used in instant messaging are rarely, if ever, appropriate for business or professional writing.

While using initialisms and acronyms correctly may help readers understand your work more easily, the incorrect use of initialisms and acronyms could turn your work into a mess. When in doubt, submit your work to our business editors for a fast, professional opinion.

Image source: jeshoots/

How to Define Abbreviations in a Document

Using Abbreviations and Acronyms in Academic Writing

An abbreviation is a short form of a word or phrase that is usually made by deleting certain letters. In the following sentence, everything underlined is an abbreviation:

Dr. Jones, who’s currently undertaking research on DNA, can’t attend the WHO conference being held in the US in Oct. 2016.

Not all of the abbreviations used in this example have the same look and feel. This is because while Dr. and Oct.

are general abbreviations, who’s and can’t are contractions and DNA, WHO, and US are acronyms.

 In academic writing, contractions should be avoided, but acronyms are commonly used.


Contractions are mostly used to simplify common pronoun/verb combinations. Deleted letters are replaced by an apostrophe.

However, contractions are generally considered too informal for academic writing. In this context, always write out the full words instead.

  • Let’s consider the first theory, which isn’t commonly accepted.
  • Let us consider the first theory, which is not commonly accepted.


Acronyms are usually formed using the first letter (or letters) of each word in a phrase. When they are read, some are pronounced as if they are words (such as OPEC); others are read as letters (such as the UK).

Pluralize acronyms by adding “s” without an apostrophe.

  • Many CEO’s of major MNC’s attend the Davos Forum.
  • Many CEOs of major MNCs attend the Davos Forum.

Introducing acronyms

Introduce every acronym before using it in the text. The first time you use the term, put the acronym in parentheses after the full term. Thereafter, you can stick to using the acronym.

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is headquartered in Switzerland. The IOC President is elected by secret ballot.

Do not introduce an acronym unless you will use it a minimum of three or four times. If it only appears once or twice, write out the full term. If you use a lot of acronyms in the document, you can also introduce them in a list of abbreviations.

There are some extremely common acronyms that do not need to be introduced. However, the list is small. Some examples of acronyms that don’t need to be spelled out include:

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How to Define Abbreviations in a Document

Latin abbreviations

There are some Latin abbreviations that are common in academic writing.

Make sure not to confuse “e.g.” and “i.e.”. In general, it’s best to avoid using these abbreviations in the main text, especially in US English. Instead, put them inside parentheses followed by a comma, or write out full words.

  • Many species of primates, e.g. orangutans, are endangered.
  • Many species of primates (e.g., orangutans) are endangered.
  • Many species of primates, such as orangutans, are endangered.

Punctuating abbreviations

Periods should always be used with Latin abbreviations, but not with contractions or acronyms. For general abbreviations, there are differences in punctuation between US and UK English.

Abbreviations in legal texts

Abbreviations (including acronyms) are heavily used in legal writing. The conventions must be strictly followed, but they vary between countries and universities. If you are writing on a legal topic, you should adhere to the relevant style.

Abbreviations in APA

If you are following the APA style guidelines, there are some specific guidelines for certain types of abbreviation.


Only abbreviate statistical terms (such as SD and M) and units of measurement (such as kg and min) if you are also using a number.

  • The first step entailed using the centimeter measurements to calculate a mean (M = 32.4 cm, SD = 3.7 cm).


Use periods if you are abbreviating a Latin term (such as g., a.m., and etc.) or referring to something related to your references (such as ed. or p.).

Use periods when US serves as an adjective, but not when it refers to the country.

  • The US is classified as a federal republic, with the U.S. Congress playing a key role.
See also:  Who really killed rasputin?

Auto Creation of an Acronym List

Karl works in an occupation that uses a lot of acronyms. Their standard procedure is to define the acronym only the first time it's used within the document.

In addition, they always need to create an appendix, at the end of the document, listing the acronyms in alphabetical order along with their meanings.

Karl is looking for a way to perhaps “mark” the acronym in the main body and have the acronym appendix be automatically created.

There is no way to do this directly in Word. There are several types of tables you can create automatically, such as tables of contents, tables of authorities, and indexes.

These last two tables (tables of authorities and indexes) could possibly be used to create the acronym list, but only if they are not already being added to your document and only if you don't mind your acronym list including page numbers.

If you want to use the table of authorities tool in order to create an acronym list, Shauna Kelly has put together a great article on how this can be done. The article specifically talks about glossaries, which essentially what an acronym list would be.

If you want to use the index tool in order to create your list, you can follow these general steps, assuming that the acronym, when defined, is followed by its meaning within parentheses:

  1. Select the acronym and its meaning. This means that you find the first instance of the acronym in your document and then select that acronym along with the parenthetical meaning that follows it.
  2. Press Alt+Shift+X to mark the selected text for the index.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the other acronyms you want in your list.
  4. At the end of your document, insert your index. How to actually insert an index has been covered in other issues of WordTips.

When to use abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms | Cochrane Community

In this manual, the term 'abbreviation' is used to cover abbreviations, acronym and initialisms. 

Use abbreviations sparingly. Only use abbreviations if they are widely known across the broad readership of Cochrane Reviews, are used frequently in a section or throughout the review, or enhance readability. Consider using an abbreviation only if the term has three or more words.

All abbreviations used in the '
Abstract', 'Plain language summary', 'Main text', and 'Authors' conclusions' should be redefined at the beginning of these sections. In figures and tables, all abbreviations should be listed at the end with their definitions.

If the review or document is long, it may be sensible to explain each abbreviation in each section of the text.

To use an abbreviation, write the full name in the first instance and follow it immediately by the abbreviated version in brackets. When something is better known by its abbreviation, it may be helpful to include the abbreviation even if the name occurs only once (e.g. World Health Organization (WHO)).

Abbreviations should follow formatting conventions. Some terms, particularly statistical terms, are commonly abbreviated in Cochrane documents (see Common abbreviations), while others should be avoided (see Abbreviations to avoid). See also Frequently used names for names commonly used and abbreviated in Cochrane documents.

Only the common abbreviations that do not need to be defined may be used in review titles and headings without the full name needing to be written first.

When a term used in a title may be more commonly known under its abbreviated form, its abbreviation may be added in parentheses after the fully written term (e.g. 'A study of the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for hygiene').

Abbreviations are acceptable in headings if they have been defined previously, though it may be preferable to rearrange the wording of headings to avoid starting with abbreviations.

At the beginning of a sentence

While it is acceptable to use abbreviations at the beginning of a sentence, authors may find it preferable to rephrase sentences to avoid starting with abbreviations.

In tables and figures

It is convenient to abbreviate some words, such as number (no.) and versus (vs), in tables and figures, but it is preferable to write them in full in the review text.

APA Style 6th Edition Blog: An Abbreviations FAQ

by Chelsea Lee

This post will address how to use  abbreviations in APA Style—specifically, how to use acronyms, which are abbreviations made up of the first letters of each word in a phrase. Consider it an FAQ about abbreviations! You can find abbreviations discussed in the Publication Manual in section 4.22 (starting on p. 106).

  • Click a question below to jump straight to its answer. 
  • When should I use an abbreviation?
  • Use abbreviations sparingly and only when they will help readers understand your work. Ask yourself these questions each time you consider using a particular abbreviation:
  • Is the reader familiar with the abbreviation?
    • Use an existing, accepted abbreviation if one exists, because familiarity helps understanding. If a standard abbreviation does not exist, then you can create your own.
  • Will you use the abbreviation at least three times in the paper?
    • Use an abbreviation at least three times in a paper if you are going to use it at all. If you won’t use it three times, then spell out the term every time. The reader might have a hard time remembering what the abbreviation means if you use it infrequently.
  • Would spelling out the term every time be overly repetitive and cumbersome?
    • Use abbreviations to avoid cumbersome repetition and enhance understanding, not just as a writing shortcut. For example, it is usually easier to read a two-word phrase than it is to remember the meaning of a two-letter abbreviation. Longer phrases make better candidates for abbreviation.
  • How many total abbreviations do you have in the paper?
    • There’s no hard line of how many abbreviations is too many, but writing is generally easier to understand when most words are spelled out than when it is overflowing with abbreviations. Only abbreviate when it helps the reader.
  1. How do I introduce an abbreviation in the text?
  2. The first time you use an abbreviation in the text, present both the spelled-out version and the short form.
  3. When the spelled-out version first appears in the narrative of the sentence, put the abbreviation in parentheses after it:
  • Example: We studied attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
See also:  What is resonance?

When the spelled-out version first appears in parentheses, put the abbreviation in brackets after it:

  • Example: The diagnosis (i.e., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]) was confirmed via behavioral observation.

After you define an abbreviation (regardless of whether it is in parentheses), use only the abbreviation. Do not alternate between spelling out the term and abbreviating it.

How do I abbreviate group authors in in-text citations and reference list entries?

If your reference has a group author, the name of the group can sometimes be abbreviated—for example, American Psychological Association can be abbreviated to APA. You are not obligated to abbreviate the name of a group author, but you can if the abbreviation would help avoid cumbersome repetition and will appear more than three times in the paper.

As with other abbreviations, spell out the name of the group upon first mention in the text and then provide the abbreviation.

If the name of the group first appears in the narrative, put the abbreviation, a comma, and the year for the citation in parentheses after it.

  • Example: The American Psychological Association (APA, 2011) suggested that parents talk to their children about family finances in age-appropriate ways.

If the name of the group first appears in parentheses, put the abbreviation in brackets after it, followed by a comma and the year for the citation.

  • Example: Children should learn about family finances in age-appropriate ways (American Psychological Association [APA], 2011).

In the reference list entry, do not include the abbreviation for the group author. Instead, spell out the full name of the group.

Correct reference entry: American Psychological Association. (2011). Dollars and sense: Talking to your children about the economy. Retrieved from
Incorrect reference entry: American Psychological Association (APA). (2011). Dollars and sense: Talking to your children about the economy. Retrieved from

If you have several references by the same group author, you only need to abbreviate the name once (see here for how to handle references with the same author and date).

Note that if two different groups would abbreviate to the same form (e.g.

, both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association abbreviate to APA), you cannot use the abbreviation in your paper—instead you must spell out the term every time to avoid ambiguity. 

An exception to abbreviations in the reference list is when works have been published using abbreviations as part of the author, title, or source. Retain these abbreviations because the reader will need them to retrieve the source (you also do not need to define them—just present them as-is). See more about this in our post on cite what you see.

How do I present an abbreviation in conjunction with an in-text citation?

Sometimes an abbreviation is presented along with an in-text citation. For example, you might cite a test or measure that has an abbreviation and then provide its citation (for a common case, here is how to cite the DSM-5).

If the spelled-out version of the term appears in the narrative for the first time, put the abbreviation and the author–date citation in parentheses after it, separated by a semicolon. Do not use back-to-back parentheses.

  • Correct: We assessed depression using the Beck Depression Inventory–II (BDI-II; Beck, Brown, & Steer, 1996).
  • Incorrect: We used the Beck Depression Inventory—II (BDI-II) (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996).

If the spelled-out version of the term appears in parentheses for the first time, put the abbreviation in brackets after it, followed by a semicolon and the author–date citation.  

  • Example: Our assessment of depression (as measured via scores on the Beck Depression Inventory–II [BDI-II]; Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996) showed significant incidence of this disorder in the population.

Can I use abbreviations in the title of a paper?

Avoid using abbreviations in the title of a paper. Writing out the full term in the title will ensure potential readers know exactly what you mean, and if your article is formally published, it will ensure it is accurately indexed. 

Can I use abbreviations in the running head?

There is no official guidance on whether to use abbreviations in the running head. We recommend that you avoid them, unless the abbreviation is well-known and there is no alternative running head that would be better. If you do use an abbreviation in a running head, you can use it straightaway without definition. Instead, define the abbreviation the first time you use it in the text. 

Can I use abbreviations in the abstract?

In general, it is not necessary to use abbreviations in the abstract because the abstract is so short.

However, if the abbreviation would help the reader recognize a term or find your article via search, then it is permissible to include an abbreviation in the abstract, even if it is not used three times.

When you use an abbreviation in both the abstract and the text, define it in both places upon first use.  

Can I use abbreviations in headings?

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