Curb your abbreviation
An appeal for assistance on abbreviations and acronyms comes from a colleague at a professional publication. Apparently there has been heated discussion in the shop, bordering on acrimony.
The specific question is about the advisability of putting the abbreviation of an agency in parentheses immediately following the full name of the agency. But it feeds into the larger question of how much abbreviations may or may not compromise readability.
The Associated Press Stylebook is apparently of the mind that a proliferation of abbreviations is an obstacle to readers, because it advises sternly to minimize them. The relevant entry goes so far as to say that if an abbreviation is so unfamiliar as to require being identified within parentheses, it should be avoided altogether.
That, of course, is in composition of articles for a general readership. Professional publications embrace abbreviations and acronyms much more readily as a kind of lodge handshake identifying who is in the club.* Lawyers and civil servants are particularly addicted to the practice. I suppose we could sew them in a sack and drop them in the sea, but it would be gentler, more humane, and less polluting to reason with them.
My colleague wonders on what basis the AP reached its policy, whether from editorial preference and whim or from readability studies, focus groups, or some other organized investigation of the matter. Is there academic research into this? Or investigation by professional journalism organizations?
I’m not able to provide much information beyond a personal preference for minimizing abbreviations and acronyms because they distract me and quickly convey a leaden bureaucratic tone to articles.
So I am casting a net among my readers to determine whether this matter has been investigated and what conclusions have emerged. The comments, as always, are open.
*That also includes the annoying bureaucratic habit of dropping the definite article in front of the acronym, for the fancied brisk, clipped effect of saying “EPA reports” instead of “the EPA reports.” This tic is particularly detestable because reporters, who suffer from echolalia, almost invariably adopt it in articles written for the civilian population.