All you need to know about abbreviations

Working with academic articles and writing an assignment for college requires a vest insight not only into the standard language, use of terminology or a specific reference type, i.e., Chicago, MLA or APA style but also to be well aware of common abbreviations and shortenings. Abbreviations are common to encounter while reading scientific articles, working with highly specialized sources or simply doing research for your thesis or course paper.

Quite a few students find it difficult to decipher an acronym in research paper or abbreviation in research paper since sometimes those phrases and characters are easy to confuse with typos or specialized terminology. For this, we’ve compiled a list of questions and answers on abbreviation in a research paper that a student might wonder about.

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What Is an Abbreviation?

An abbreviation is a concise form of a word, phrase or, even, a sentence that has been reduced to possible its minimum by using single letters of words or their parts as a comprehensible code. There are a few types of acronyms each of which has a specific implication.

  • Initialisms are acronyms created by putting together the first letters of words and making them capital and pronouncing each letter separately. E.g., NYPD – New York Police Department, UN – United Nations, UFO – unidentified flying object, etc.
  • Acronyms are shortenings, which are also created by compiling the first letters of words and making them capital but unlike initialisms, they are pronounced as a word. E.g., PIN – personal identification number, VAT – value-added text, NASA – National Aeronautical and Space Administration, etc.
  • Shortenings are a kind of abbreviations whose initial form has been cut in two parts where the second part is discarded, and such are regarded as Standard English words. E.g., the app – application, flu – influenza, ad – advertisement, etc. On the other hand, there are shortenings, which preserve only their first part as well but are not regarded as real words and, when reading aloud, are pronounced as their initial form. E.g., Mon. – Monday, Oct. – October, e.g., for example, etc.
  • Contractions are specific words, which due to their frequent use and popularity have gained another more concise written form by combining, normally, the first and last letters, which is read aloud as their initial word. E.g., St –saint, Mrs – missis, Ph.D. – Doctor of Philosophy, etc.

Apart from the differences in word-building and use, there are a few main categories, which neatly divide abbreviations into the following groups.

  1. Personal, Professional and Title Abbreviations. This group consists of shortenings, which are used to describe a person’s social status. They include:
  • Social status, such as a degree (Ph. D, BSN, M.D., etc.), also Jr. (junior) and Sr. (senior);
  • Marital Status, such as Ms. (miss – unmarried woman), Mrs. (missis – married woman), Mr. (mister – married/unmarried man);
  • Personal Names, such as JFK (John F. Kennedy) and etc.
  1.  Toponymical Abbreviations, which are names of locations and geographical place, such as countries (USA, UK, NZ, etc.), states (IL, OK, MS, etc.).
  2.   Special Abbreviations, which include chemical elements (C, CO2, H2O, etc.) systems of measurement (oz.,cm, km and etc.) and other scientific terminology that may or may not be used in everyday speech.
  3.  Objects and Notions Acronyms, which are things of everyday use (DVD, CDR, etc.) and common knowledge notions like IQ, OCD, PTSD, etc.
  4. Language Abbreviations, which are divided into two main groups:
  • Standard English, which is usually Latin phrases like etc., i.e., e.g., and so on.
  • Colloquial English, which are correct and incorrect words and expressions (including slang) like ASAP, BTW and others.

What Are The Cases When an Abbreviation Is Used?

Abbreviations are created and frequently used as a means of simplifying and shortening texts instead of overwhelming them with full terminology. Also, another case of such units’ use is the desire of an author/speaker to facilitate the process of speaking/writing when such is addressed to people qualified in a certain profession.

In order to estimate when and if abbreviations can be used, one should ask themselves a few simple but informative questions:

  1. Is an audience aware of such abbreviations? (If an answer is affirmative then their use can be as wide as an author/speaker wants; Also, it’s possible to create personal and original abbreviations, which have to be explained priory and obvious to unfold on one’s own.)
  2. How often is an abbreviation going to be used in a paper? (There is an unwritten rule that shortening has to be applied at least three times a paper since a constant change from a full term and a short form can we confusing for readers and hard to remember in the end.)
  3. Is it necessary to use it? (Abbreviations are applied to reduce repetitions and to overfill of text, so they water down its general vocabulary. At the same time, sometimes writing a two-component word a few times text is better than using its two-letter shortening that can be quite confusing to recall. For this, acronyms are recommended to use when words, phrases, and terminology are too long to write them over and over again.)
  4. How many of those are already in a text? (Even though their initial purpose is to reduce a volume of repetitions when they are used too frequently they become a repetition on their own. In this case, it’s better to plan ahead what abbreviations and in what number is going to be used.). Find more about how to write numbers in a paper.

How To Enlist Shortenings Into A Text?

When it’s applied for the first time, it’s mostly put in parentheses next to its initial form to indicate their change from one to another.

For instance, Our team has decided to pay close attention to IT (information technologies) related issue and elaborate an approach to their resolution.

Also, if an initial form is already written in parenthesis, then its shortenings has to be framed in brackets following it.

For instance, The illness (Borderline Personality Disorder [BPD]) is in the very focus of modern psychology as the first leading cause of drug abuse at the age of 16-27.

How to Deal With Abbreviations in References In And Out of a List of Sources?

It’s common that sometimes a list of references includes shortenings of authors, research groups, organizations and etc. For this, it’s important to make sure that such an abbreviation already exists. Furthermore, it’s not necessary to shorten such units, but it can be done if needed.

Normally, first a full name is introduced, and then it’s followed by a concise form. For instance, The European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA, 2015) suggested holding an annual psychology conference with participants from all over the European Union and invited guests from the USA.

In this case, the name of an organization is written before its abbreviation and date of its work’s publishing whereas the last two are framed by parenthesis.

If a full name is already in parenthesis, then its shortening and date are framed by brackets.

For instance, The Annual International Psychology Conference was held in Brussels and was suggested by many psychology associations from all over the world (The European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations [EFPA], 2015).

When it comes to reference entries, a writer should remember that using shortenings is erroneous and has to be always written by using a full name.

For instance, the correct variant is:

European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations. (2015). European Psychologist. (3.372)

If a text includes a couple of works by a certain team of researches, then a shortening is advised to be used only for the first time of its appearance. Moreover, is text comprises names of organization or other entities that have the same concise form then neither of those can be abbreviated and must be written fully.

On the other hand, it’s possible to apply shortenings in sources but only in cases when a name of a reference already includes such by default. Moreover, it’s necessary to use them since otherwise, a viewer might not be able to find work.

What if shortening is joined with a reference that appears in a text?

It’s common to encounter a citation that includes both a reference and an acronym. Mostly, such are codes and measures that are casually used concisely.

Normally, the full name is introduced, and then a semicolon is used to divide the full name and a following shortening and work’s information which are framed by parentheses. It’s important to use parentheses only once and include all the information instead of using them twice and separating it.

For instance,

It’s asserted that people who score 5 in the test, Major Depression Inventory, are likely to attempt suicide in the next 3-4 months (MDI; Bech, Rasmussen & Olsen, 2001).    

Is an abbreviation applicable to a topic?

Normally, no, it’s not. Writers prefer keeping a full name in a tittle since it gives a better insight on a topic to avoid confusion and ambiguity. Sometimes, official publishers may include abbreviations in a title only in cases when such are commonly used and clear to an audience.

Is an abbreviation applicable to a header?

Unfortunately, the use of an abbreviation in a header is not instructed in general APA style rules. Therefore, there are no specific recommendations. Notwithstanding, it’s advised to keep a full name as a header, especially when a paper is published in a compilation of various study fields. If shortening is to be still applied to a header, then it has to be of common knowledge and does not contain any branch-specific terminology.

Moreover, if it’s used in a header, then there is no need to introduce its explanation in text since it should be well-known by everybody.

Is an abbreviation applicable to a summary?

The primary purpose of an acronym is to reduce repetitions of terminology in a text. A summary is a concise paragraph that simply doesn’t allow an author to overuse vocabulary. Therefore, shortenings are likely not to be engaged in this part.

On the other hand, in case if an abbreviation is more recognized than its initial form, then it’s allowed to add it to this part. E.g. Though post-traumatic stress disorder is a commonly known illness, most people refer to it as PTSD hence, its use in a summary would be helpful for introducing a topic to a reader.

Lastly, when an acronym is used in summary it has to be explained both in it and during its first introduction into a text.

Is an abbreviation applicable to the title of a chapter?

Just like in the case with headers, official APA Style instructions do not specify the use abbreviation here. On the other hand, it’s advised not to use them in a title due to a certain reason. First of all, before actually reading an article, readers tend to scan it through in order to see its general outline. Using acronyms can complicate it and make pre-reading activities more confusing because of the need to determine the meaning of such shortenings.

Therefore, it’s better to indicate full names in the titles of chapters and then add their abbreviations when a term is first mentioned in the text.

Is an abbreviation applicable to diagrams and charts?

Definitely, yes. In fact, shortenings are a good way to spare space and make a table look neater and more concise. But, definitions and explanatory captions have to be included at a table’s foot. This has to be done even if such explanations are provided in the text since a reader can forget the meaning of an abbreviation by the time they finish reading the paper.

Also, it’s done in order to simplify the process of writing and compiling information for other researchers who may you this paper and its appendixes as a piece of evidence in their own work.

Does every abbreviation have to have the definition?

In fact, not all shortenings have to be provided with their explanation. In order to determine which abbreviation has to be defined which doesn’t, an author has to use dictionaries. If an abbreviation has abbr. following its full name in the diction then it requires an explanation in a text; in case, if abbr. doesn’t follow a full name then there is no need to define it since now it’s enrolled as a separate word that is self-explanatory.

For instance, the following abbreviations do not require any definitions:

  • VISA, NATO, Rd, CEO and etc.

Moreover, it’s not necessary to decode abbreviations which indicated measurements like kg, sec, km, lbs. and etc.

Are indefinite articles applicable to abbreviations?

Yes, article a, and a can be used with abbreviations in cases when such is required. Since some shortenings are singular words and are read as such, they perform the functions of a sentence unit. For instance, such abbreviations require an article an NYPD (office), an R.S.A (citizen), a CWA (official) and etc.

The choice of a and a depends on the first letter and, respectively, a vowel sound is preceded by a whereas a constant sound is preceded by a.

Why do some abbreviations have a period whereas others don’t?

The reason for this is certain exceptions like the U.S.A., U.K. and etc. Mostly, shortenings do not include periods and are written together. Moreover, the USA and the UK do not have periods when they perform the role of a noun but only when they are used as adjectives.

Are abbreviations countable?

Some of them are countable whereas others are not. For this, a look into an abbreviation’s full name is required to determine of which components they consist. If the last word is a countable noun, then it’s possible to create its plural form. It’s done according to the nouns’ plural forms rule, i.e., e or –es.

Popular Abbreviations to Keep in Mind

N, S, E, WNorth, South, East, West