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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Acronym, Initials, Initialism or Just Plain Bad Writing

Below you will find an entry from a booklet I am writing to help promote The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward To Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Its working title is Zero-Tolerance Editors' Aids: How To Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeepers. It will be available early in 2008.

acronym/initialism: Webster says an acronym is a word formed from the initial (or first few) letters of a series of words. NOW for National Organization of Women, as an example. Or radar, which was originally from radio detecting and ranging. But if a pronounceable word isn't formed so that you still have to say all the letters (say something like ABWA for American Business Women's Association, that's not an acronym. Some are calling it initialism or--I believe more accurately--just plain initials. The point is, you're writing for clarity; tell your reader what those letters stand for whether they form an acronym or not.

So, regardless of what you call that jumble of letters or what label Webster puts on it, letters strung together as initials should be used cautiously. Always write out what they mean when they first appear, and avoid them whenever possible forever after that. To do otherwise is just plain bad writing.
Watch for Zero-Tolerance Editors' Aids: How To Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeepers on my website ( or in my newsletter, Sharing with Writers. To subscribe to Sharing with Writers, send an e-mail with "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line to Learn more about publishing tips booklets by scrolling to the bottom segment on this blog page to see what Tips Booklet Guru Paulette Ensign has to say.

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