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Abbreviations and acronyms

Abbreviations are any shortened or contracted word or phrase. For example, writing St. instead of Street, or Rx for prescription, or DC for District of Columbia.

Acronyms are a type of abbreviation. They shorten phrases in a specific way— using parts of the initial word or phrase (usually letters) to form an abbreviation. For example, DIY or ASAP.

In the most technical sense, there is a difference between acronyms (abbreviations pronounced as words, like NASA) and initialisms (abbreviations pronounced as letters, like FBI). For simplicity, our content guide refers to both as acronyms. The readability issues that acronyms and initialisms create tend to be similar, and “acronym” is the more common term.

Acronyms often confuse readers. Avoid them whenever possible.

If an acronym is necessary for future reference, spell the full word and follow with the acronym in parentheses on the first reference. For example, The General Services Administration (GSA).

Some acronyms are more recognizable than their full spellings. For example, NASA, NAACP, FBI. In such instances, the acronym is always acceptable, at the writer’s discretion.

At the writer’s discretion, refer to organizations on second reference with a shortened name instead of an acronym. For example, use Labor in place of Department of Labor, rather than DOL.

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18F Content Guide is a product of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, and is managed by 18F.

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