How did you feel when you read that title? Puzzled? Curious? Irritated? Perhaps I lost potential readers who did not recognize UAs, didn't want to take time to figure it out, and moved on to another website.
UAs = undefined abbreviations, an abbreviation I made up to make a point. It's like TLA, three-letter acronym. (But TLA itself is an initialism, not an acronym. Find out why.)
Last night I visited the website of an association I am a new member of. I wanted to find out whether any events were coming up that I might add to my calendar.
These abbreviations in the event listings were for sister organizations of my association:
I was not sure what any of the three stood for, although I had an educated guess for SPJ. Clicking on the event links and reading detailed descriptions of the events did not help. For all three, I had to leave the site and use Google to find out what the abbreviations stood for.
Who is at fault? Would you blame me for not recognizing Social Media Club, Society of Professional Journalists, and Asian American Journalists Association? Or should the writers have helped me out?
In business writing classes, when I suggest that people spell out or define their abbreviations and acronyms, occasionally someone asks, "Why should I do that? My readers OUGHT to know what these stand for." Yes, perhaps I ought to have recognized those associations by their initials. But I didn't. And I am not alone.
It takes just seconds to spell out abbreviations. If you do it just once on a web page or in a message, you can ensure that you are communicating with your readers rather than frustrating them. Here are three easy ways:
Better Business Writing (BBW)
Better Business Writing [followed in the next sentence with BBW]
BBW (Better Business Writing)
Yes, some abbreviations are so well known that you may not need to spell them out, depending on your audience. The Associated Press Stylebook gives CIA, FBI, and GOP as such examples but adds, "That does not mean that its [the abbreviation's] use should be automatic."
Undefined abbreviations can make you look bad because they suggest that you either did not think about your audience or did not care.
What is your view? Have acronyms and abbreviations confused you? Or do you like to close your email with BR?