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Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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What is an acronym? An acronym is a word that is made of the initial letters of a phrase. An acronym can be pronounced as a separate word, or it can be pronounced letter by letter. For example, while NATO is pronounced as one word /nay-to/, FBI is pronounced as three different letters, f, b, and i.

Acronym definition: When a word is formed by adding the initial letters, initial syllables, or a combination of initial letters and initial syllables of a fixed phrase, this word is called an acronym. Usually, all the letters in an acronym must be written in capital letters. However, if an acronym has been used for a long time, it can turn into a regular word that is spelled in small letters. One such example is the word radar which is spelled as radar and not RADAR any longer. Radar is an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging which is an acronym made of a combination of an initial syllable and initial letters.

Some acronyms are pronounced as single words, while others are pronounced letter by letter. For example, NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration is pronounced as one word, but YMCA (the Young Men’s Christian Association) is pronounced as four letters, y, m, c, and a.

Writers use acronyms to save space in their writings and to express complex and long phrases in a simple manner. In addition, the use of acronyms in writing reduces redundancy. When referring to goals in business writings, for instance, it is more efficient and simpler to write the acronym SMART than writing Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound goals.

Acronym Examples

The following table shows acronym examples and their fixed phrases. Explanations are also provided.

Acronyms Fixed Phrases Explanations
Benelux Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg Created in 1948, Benelux was a custom agreement between these three countries. Today, the agreement is obsolete, and the term refers to grouping these three countries together. The acronym Benelux is formed from the initial syllables of the words Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
CIA Central Intelligence Agency CIA is formed from the initial letters of the name of an organization. CIA is always written in capital letters.
QA quality assurance QA is a technical acronym formed from the initial letters of the fixed phrase quality assurance used in different kinds of fields, such as business, education, and the food industry.
IDR income driven repayment The acronym IDR is made of the initial letters of the fixed phrase income driven repayment. It is an acronym used for paying student loans in the U.S. Federal government system.
ASAP as soon as possible ASAP is an acronym made of the initial letters of the fixed phrase as soon as possible. It is pronounced as a word and is frequently used in daily life and communication.
AKA also known as AKA is an acronym that is used in daily life; it is made of the initial letters of a fixed phrase.
RSVP Repondez S’il Vous Plait. This is an acronym that is made from the initial letters of a French phrase that means please respond. It is used in all walks of life.

Academic Acronyms

Academic acronyms are frequently used in different academic fields to express complex ideas in a simple manner. The following table shows examples of academic acronyms, their fixed phrases, and their academic fields.

Acronyms Fixed Phrases Academic Fields
APA American Psychology Association Psychology
DSM The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Psychology
LMHC Licensed Mental Health Counselor Psychology
LMSW Licensed Master Social Worker Psychology
LCSW Licensed Clinical Social Worker Psychology
ELPS Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Education
ESL English as a Second Language Education
EAL English as an Additional Language Education
AIDA Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action Marketing
CPC Cost Per Click Marketing
SEO Search Engine Optimization Marketing
SIM Similar Engineering
SL Structural Level Engineering
SAN Sanitary Engineering
REV Revision Engineering
FAQ Frequently asked questions All fields

Slang Usage of Acronyms

Many slang acronyms have been formed in recent years. While it is acceptable and very common for writers to use slang acronyms in informal texts or messages, it is not acceptable to use slang acronyms in academic and formal writings. The table below shows slang acronyms and their fixed phrases.

Slang Acronyms Fixed Phrases
LOL Laugh out loud
OMG Oh my Gosh
BTW By the way
IDK I don’t know
MFW My face when
DM Direct message
PM Private message
SMH Shaking my head
DR Double rainbow
TBH To be honest
TGIF Thank God it’s Friday
IMMD It made my day
ROFL Rolling on floor laughing
IKR? I know. Right?
TL; DR Too long; Didn’t read
ICYMI In case you missed it

Acronym or Abbreviation?

Acronym vs. abbreviation: Writers often wonder if acronyms and abbreviations are the same. Any shortened word is an abbreviation regardless of how it was formed. Therefore, an acronym, a word formed from the initial letters or syllables of a fixed phrase, is a type of abbreviation. An abbreviation and an acronym are similar in that they are both shortened forms of other words. Also, in academic writings, the use of slang abbreviations, and acronyms is unacceptable. However, academic abbreviations and acronyms are often used in academic fields and writings to avoid redundancy, save space, and simplify complex concepts.

On the other hand, there are differences between abbreviations and acronyms. Usually, an acronym forms a new word with a different pronunciation than the fixed phrase. For example, NAFTA, which is an acronym for the fixed phrase North American Free Trade Agreement, is pronounced as a new word. However, sth., an abbreviation of the word something, is always pronounced as something. Also, an acronym is usually written in capital letters, but an abbreviation is usually capitalized only if the grammar rules dictate the capitalization of that word.

You say sth. to sb., but you tell sb. sth. You say something to somebody, but you tell somebody something. This is a sentence that many English teachers tell their students, so they learn the correct use of the verbs to say and to tell. However, although the sentence is written as such, both something and somebody are pronounced in full. Both sth. and sb. are in small letters.
Sth. got to give. Sth., is capitalized because it is the first word of the sentence. It is pronounced as something.
Because of NAFTA, he easily found a job in Mexico. NAFTA is written in capital letters. NAFTA is an acronym.

Another notable difference between an abbreviation and an acronym is that an acronym is not followed by a period; however, in American English, most abbreviations are followed by a period. The table below shows examples of common abbreviations.

Words Abbreviations
Adverb adv.
Noun n.
Verb v.
Adjective adj.
Company Co.
Limited Ltd.
Road Rd.
Street St.
Boulevard Blvd.
Lane Ln.
Place Pl.

Lesson Summary

An acronym is a word that can be formed in three ways: it can be formed from the initial letters of a series of words; it can be formed from the first syllables of a series of words, or it can be formed from a combination of initial letters and initial syllables of a series of words. Acronyms can shorten academic terms, such as mental and health disorders, the names of publications or organizations, or the most used phrases in daily life.

Writers use acronyms to avoid redundancy, shorten the terms that are often used in everyday life, and communicate complex ideas in simple ways. Writers in academic fields such as psychology often use academic acronyms like APA (American Psychology Association) and LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor). However, the use of slang acronyms like LOL (laugh out loud) and BTW (by the way) are unacceptable in scholarly writings.

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