Microsoft Bob

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Proper Use of Acronyms In Business Communications

I caught some people at work overusing some obscure acronyms in business emails that have considerably more popular uses, so I had to tell them to get used to spelling out phrases at least the first time in order to provide context for everyone else in the conversation. This should be obvious to everyone, but too many people fail to realize that their recipients may have no idea what the sender is talking about based on their individual knowledge.

For example:

  • HTML - This should always mean "HyperText Markup Language," and it should never mean "Happy To Make Lemonade" With that in mind, you should always write "Happy To Make Lemonade (HTML)" when you first use it, and you should probably use it throughout your email. But still, you should consider writing "HyperText Markup Language (HTML)" when you first use it, just to make everything perfectly clear to your readers, and then you can use just the acronym for subsequent references.
  • VS - This could be short for "versus," or it could mean "Visual Studio." Many English-speaking readers will probably be able to determine the correct meaning based on the surrounding text, but in a diverse work environment there is no guarantee that the intended meaning will be perfectly clear to everyone. This means that some recipients will have to re-read what the sender has written in order to verify their understanding, which could have been alleviated by simply using "A versus B" or "Visual Studio (VS)."
  • OMG - This is often used colloquially to mean "Oh My Gosh," but I've seen it used to mean "On Middle Ground." Needless to say, the sentence can have dramatically different meanings depending on how that acronym is understood by the reader. For example: "Right now both parties are having a difficult time finding issues OMG where everyone can agree."

Social media acronyms should not be used in a business context; this includes the following examples:

  • BTW - "By The Way"
  • FWIW - "For What It's Worth"
  • PDQ - "Pretty Darn Quick"
  • SOL - "Sh** Outta Luck"
  • etc.

There are a few possible exceptions which may be commonly-understood business acronyms, but you should still consider your recipients when deciding which of these acronyms you should use and which you should spell out. Here are a few examples:

  • ASAP - "As Soon As Possible"
  • FYI - "For Your Information"
  • FAQ - "Frequently-Asked Questions"
  • Q&A - "Questions and Answers"
  • PS - "Postscript"

There is one simple rule that you should always remember when writing for others:

In business communications, brevity is not always better, and ambiguity will be the death of us all. Winking smile

Posted: Jul 16 2014, 11:50 by Bob | Comments (0)
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