Get Me Rewrite: OOA (Overuse of acronyms)
By Mark Jacob
Today let’s discuss overuse of acronyms, also known as OOA. Writers can save words and get right to the point by employing widely understood acronyms, or WUAs. But when they use acronyms that aren’t crystal clear (ATACCs) or when they fill a sentence with multiple acronyms (MAs), they create an unappetizing alphabet soup, also known as a UAS.
Here are some headline examples:
“PPP vs. TARP: Which program offers the biggest ROI for taxpayers?”
Did they have to use that third acronym? Couldn’t they have said “Which program is better for taxpayers?”
“HGC, DCConnect Global and QLC Chain complete successful trial of MEF LSO APIs”
MEF is a digital industry group. LSO is Lifecycle Service Orchestration. API is Application Programming Interface. Granted, in a technical publication like the one where this headline appeared, many readers know these acronyms. But does everyone? And even if it can be deciphered, the headline looks like a word jumble.
“TRI-AD and DMP Kick Off HD Map Update PoC from April 2020”
This is a headline for a press release directed at people interested in technology, so maybe the writer can be forgiven for assuming that PoC always means proof of concept. But it can also mean point of care, people of color, point of contact, paid outside of closing, prisoner of conscience and professional officer course.
We’ve given you three headline examples, but acronymitis is also a major problem in regular text. While occasional use of very common acronyms makes sense, it can quickly get out of control if the writer lets it. Acronyms are part of a general tendency to get deeper into jargon that lets some readers in but shuts out the rest. Fight back. Don’t write a sentence that looks like a dump truck full of letters spilled its load, also known as DTFLSL.
Footnote: We’re using the word “acronym” in the loose sense here. Some language purists say an acronym is composed of the first letter or letters of a phrase or term in a way that can be pronounced as its own word, such as NASA or FOMO. These purists say a collection of first letters that cannot be pronounced like a word and instead is pronounced one letter at a time – such as FBI or ATM – is an initialism.
Next time you need some sharp words written, send a note. Melissa@MHarris.com.