Acronyms – When Efficiency Gets in Communications’ Way


AcronymsWe all use them. (ASAP, RSVP, PST)

We all misuse them. (And not just when we’re sending texts, either. ATM Machines, PIN number, GUI interface. You know you’ve done it.)

But when you’re in high-tech (or is it Hi Tech?) acronyms can take on a life of their own.

When I was working at Hewlett-Packard we were issued with a 60 page document detailing the hundreds of acronyms that we needed to be familiar with. Not only did we need to understand internal “HP-speak”, but also the technology of the telecommunications industry — probably one of the heaviest creators (a.k.a. perpetrators) of acronyms ever! It was three weeks into a hardware design project before I realized that when my colleagues were talking about ATM headers, they weren’t referring to the logo signs above the money machine!

But it’s not just in telecommunications. I worked in the Semiconductor industry and was issued a similarly overwhelming list of chip acronyms that befuddled the brain. Having learned from my HP experience, I asked about a technical acronym I wasn’t familiar with after the President of the company used it a couple of times. After the meeting attendees stopped laughing they informed me that it was the name of the building I was sitting in!

Now I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m not unintelligent. Why do we as technical companies create – and recreate – acronyms that seem to confuse communication rather than help it? And why do we INSIST on using all of these beloved acronyms in our marketing materials and daily communication?

Is it laziness? Or elitism? Or expediency? Or habit?

It’s probably a combination of all of these… And it’s not helping you market your products or services! Even if one target customer is confused by an acronym in your marketing story, that’s one person too many.

A simple way to cure an “overly-acronymed” external communication piece is to do the Outsiders Test. Show your brochure/ad/promotion to someone that’s not in the industry. If you have to explain it so that it makes sense, take out — or at the very least spell out — the acronyms! Your copywriting should talk about the benefits to your customer, not the technology features.

And if you must include them (which I would argue), don’t lead with them.



  1. Daniel

    great post, thanks for sharing

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