HTAR (How to Abbreviate Right)

Texting language like LOL, OMG and ROTFL is popular for a reason: It offers a faster way to write much longer words. As such “letter words” increasingly become part of our everyday language, it’s worth noting that such writing shortcuts are nothing new. If all of today’s common texting terms disappeared overnight, the English language would still have plenty of first-letter-abbreviated expressions to fall back on. . . . But they’d likely be written inconsistently from one person to the next.

As PR professionals, our daily writing is filled with terms that are best known in their abbreviated forms (“PR” being a case in point). But the texting trend of using all capital letters and no periods doesn’t always reflect the best way to write them. Here are some of those abbreviations with guidance on how to write them right.

 

    • a.m. and p.m. – These abbreviations for the Latin words “ante meridiem” and “post meridiem” are universally understood as shorthand for the time periods before and after noon. But other common terms have similar abbreviations. (Think AM radio.) Write these time terms in lowercase with periods.

 

    • D.C. (as in Washington, D.C.) – When using this abbreviation to refer to the District of Columbia, remember to include the periods.

 

    • e.g., – An abbreviation for the Latin phrase “exempli gratia,” this term is often written as shorthand for “for example.” It should be written in lowercase with periods and should always be followed by a comma.

 

    • FAQ – Write this abbreviation for “frequently asked questions” with capital letters and no periods. Write the plural form as “FAQs,” with a lowercase”s” and no apostrophe.

 

    • i.e., – Similar to “e.g.,” this abbreviation should be written in lowercase with periods and should always be followed by a  comma. But don’t confuse the meaning of the two. The Latin phrase”id est” means “that is,” and “i.e.” should be used to clarify a statement or term by restating it more clearly. “E.g.,” is used to clarify a statement or term by providing one or more examples.

 

    • M.D. – This abbreviation, which means “doctor of medicine” (or the Latin “Medicinae Doctor”), should be capitalized with periods.

 

    • Ph.D. – Short for a doctorate of philosophy, this abbreviation is written with a two-letter abbreviation for philosophy and a one-letter capitalized abbreviation for doctorate. Both initials are followed by a period.

 

    • SOS – As a signal of distress, this term technically is not an abbreviation, but is literally the letters “S” and “O” and “S” in Morse code. Write it in all capital letters, with no periods. (S.O.S. is a trademarked brand of soap, as the Associated Press Stylebook points out.)

 

    • TV – No periods are needed for the abbreviated form of television.

 

    • U.S. – When abbreviating “United States,” include a period after each letter. (British English omits the periods in “US” and “UK,” the abbreviation for “United Kingdom.”)

 

    • USA – When abbreviating “United States of America,” do not use periods.

 

  • VIP – This abbreviation for “very important person” is capitalized, with no periods. For the plural, write it as VIPs.

Clearly, this list could be much longer – especially if I were to add in “corporate speak” like COB (close of business), EOD (end of day), HR (human resources) and IT (information technology). But by now, you get the point. Proper abbreviating with first-letter initials is inconsistent. When in doubt, check a resource such as the Associated Press Stylebook or an online dictionary.

Calmetta Coleman is Director of Editorial Services and Corporate Media at Ketchum. A journalist-turned-PR pro, she frequently offers unsolicited advice and timeless tips for writing in today’s communications environment. She hopes someday to take up swimming, tennis, and piano; in the meantime, she is the mom of two grade-schoolers. Connect with Calmetta on Facebook or on Twitter – @Calmetta.