If someone asked you for a document ASAP, sent you one FYI or offered you some TLC you would most probably understand them. If they asked for the document by COB (close of business) or EOD (end of day) you might be less sure. Asked for the MO (Modus Operandi), would you know how to respond?
The Evening Standard has recently commented on the ubiquitous use of acronyms and the way in which they can confuse and exclude those who aren’t ‘in the know’. The writer was particularly aggravated by the use of acronyms in popular culture, citing her confusion at popular reality TV programmes, TOWIE, DOI and IACGMOOH. Look them up if you’re not sure!
For acronyms to be effective they should act as shorthand and speed up the exchange of information. With our ever faster pace of life together with the increased use of social media, particularly Twitter where the number of characters per message is limited to 140, it is not surprising that we have seen a multiplication of the number of acronyms used in every day language.
However, if we move to a professional setting, this increased use of acronyms can pose a number of problems. Firstly, what might seem a fun and friendly way of communicating between friends and personal contacts does not always convey a professional image in the workplace. Professional emails should be friendly but not overly informal. You might think that using acronyms such as LOL, TGIF or BFN help to build relationships but be aware that they might not create the right impression, particularly if your contact doesn’t know what they actually stand for.
Secondly, many professions or organisations create their own set of acronyms, all very useful for regular users but liable to baffle or perplex anyone from outside. Confusion grows even more when one acronym represents different expressions in different professions. CAT for example can signify Civil Air Transport, Cultural Awareness Training or Computer Assisted Training to name but a few. This can leave the bewildered newcomer or outsider confused and unsure whether to risk looking foolish and ask for an explanation or to remain in the dark.
Many organisations have now created their own in-house style guide to provide consistent guidelines to employees producing written communication. These style guides often include advice on when and how to use acronyms appropriately. However, the best advice is to use your common sense and if in any doubt spell it out in full. Why risk appearing smug and alienating your reader when a few more characters will make your message clear.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2012