All about Abbreviations in Academic Writing: A Guide

All about Abbreviations in Academic Writing: A Guide

All about Abbreviations in Academic Writing: A Guide


What is an abbreviation and what is its purpose in academic writing?

The purpose of using abbreviations for key terms is to eliminate repetition of long technical words across the text. This is extremely helpful, especially in academic writing, which often involves the extensive use of key terms and phrases. This would reduce the word count of the manuscript, and allow for more concise and simplified explanations.

Abbreviations are sometimes initialisms or acronyms that contain the first letter of every term in a phrase. An acronym is a set of letters that corresponds to the first letter of each word in a phrase, and is pronounced exactly like a word. For example, the abbreviated form of National Aeronautics and Space Administration is NASA, which is pronounced as its own word (nah-sa). An initialism comprises multiple letters and corresponds to a longer phrase, but the abbreviation itself is pronounced letter by letter, and not as-is. Some examples are FBI and BBC. All abbreviations are capitalized and they do not contain any periods or spaces in between letters.

Utilizing abbreviations strategically in your manuscript can make your like easier. But more importantly, they would help to not only reduce the word count of the manuscript, but would also help to make the writing clearer by avoiding repetition. This is especially true if you have many long technical phrases in your manuscript, which is mostly the case in scientific and technical writing.

In academic writing, the full phrase is written in full when it first appears in any section (e.g. abstract, introduction, methodology, results and discussion). For example:

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) has been extensively utilized in prior work. This study adopts a modified version of the TAM.

In this example, the full form of Technology Acceptance Model is used initially, and the abbreviated form is defined in parenthesis right after the full phrase (TAM). Upon subsequent use of this phrase throughout the remainder of this section, only the abbreviated version can be used. When moving to a new section, the full form should be used in the first appearance of the phrase in the new section, and the abbreviated form can then be used.


Plural Abbreviations

To pluralize an abbreviation, simply append an s at the end of it. There is no requirement to add an apostrophe. For example:

This study has utilized four modified TAMs.


Common Abbreviation Rules

  • Use an abbreviation for a phrase only if it appears more than three times throughout the section. If it appears less than that, you should spell it out in full.
  • Do not add abbreviations in titles, the abstract, headings or the references/bibliography section.
  • Abbreviations are always capitalized.
  • Abbreviations in the form of acronyms are pronounced like words, while those in the form of initialisms are pronounced letter by letter.
  • Use articles that match the way abbreviations are pronounced. If it starts with a consonant, use the article a (a RNN classifier). If it starts with a vowel, use the article an (an SVM classifier).
  • Do not use the same word in the abbreviation at its end in full form. For example, the TAM model is correct; the TAM Model is incorrect. This is because the M in TAM already stands for Model, so there is no requirement to add it when using the abbreviation TAM.


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