RG Grainger
Written Work Guides
Guide to Drafting a Manuscript
Guide to being Lead Author of a Paper
Check-list for Submitted Reports, Papers and Theses
A Brief Guide to Style
    Writing Style
    Spelling & Grammar
    Abbreviations & Acronyms
    Numbers & Units
    Tables & Figures
    Latex Tips
Grainger Falls

Abbreviations and Acronyms

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word, e.g. Mr for Mister. An acronym is a form of abbreviation which is usually produced from the initial letters of words e.g. lidar from light detection and ranging. An abbreviation also has to be distinguished from a symbol e.g. using + for plus and from contractions where letters are omitted e.g. fo'csle.


Only use an abbreviation or acronym if it is used more than twice in the text. Spell out the abbreviation or acronym the first time it is used and follow it by the shortenned form in parentheses. Do this both in the text and in the abstract. So

  • quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) not QBO (quasi-biennial oscillation)


The full point is usually used after abbreviations but not for:
  • an abbreviation for the name of a unit of measurement (cm not cm.)
  • Mr, Mrs, Messrs, Dr, Mt, Pt, St

The abbreviations 'e.g.' and 'i.e.' are never followed by a comma.


An acronym is an abbreviation formed from letters in a phrase. The two principal forms of acronym are:
  • those that are pronounced as a word,

    NATO, North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    At some point this type of acronym metamorphoses into a standard word (e.g. radar) and no longer needs defining.

  • those that are pronounced as letters. Note that a period can be used to indicate missing letters.


    However this rule is not strictly adhered to so we have

    WMO, World Meteorological Organization

Do not back-capitalise abbreviated phrases to suit an acronym's capitaliation. So
  • gross domestic product (GDP) not Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • general circulation model (GCM) not General Circulation Model (GCM)
Earth Observation Data Group, Department of Physics, University of Oxford. Page last updated: @21:16 GMT 03-Jan-2015