I feel it is important to touch on a great tool used by editors and writers alike, abbreviations. In my last post Crunching the Numbers I briefly touched on it so here is the full version. It’s easy to tell that abbreviations are shortened versions of longer words and this skill is important for any newspaper or magazine. But why is it important? Because it saves characters. Obviously. You only have limited space to work with so make it count.
Long Words and Acronyms
This is by far the easiest place to start when it comes to abbreviations and the most helpful. Most people know what an acronym is and if you don’t here’s an example: NASA. Almost everyone knows that NASA is short for the National Aeronautics Space Administration and if you didn’t you do now.
Acronyms are abbreviations that can form words when abbreviated. In most cases people will understand what you are talking about when you use an acronym, but to be on the safe side most style books state that you spell out what the acronym stands for first to avoid confusion. This is a common rule of thumb for most abbreviations that you do in your story.
U.S. and U.N.
In some cases like the U.S. and U.N. for example you never have to spell out the full version of the word or phrase if you don’t want to, but if you need a few characters it is a great place to start. When some abbreviations have been used by the population for so long there’s no need to explain what it stands for. At that point if they don’t get it they either didn’t go to school or lived under a rock, or possibly both.
But there is one thing to note. The periods that go inbetween the letters of these abbreviations is important. Each letter is broken apart by a period otherwise it would make a similar word. If there were no periods U.S. would just be US and it would get confusing. The reason other abbreviations like NASA and FBI don’t use periods is because they don’t look similar to other common words.
Periods also go at the end of all abbreviations. At least in the American editing style it does. Even when it is a simple two letters like street, St., or doctor, Dr. It’s quick to memorize since you’ll be doing it a lot.
True it isn’t that hard to do abbreviations, but it is helpful to know. The best part about learning how to do it is when you come across a word that doesn’t have an abbreviations you can make it up. That’s the main beauty of having them around.
When you make a new abbreviation for a word that doesn’t have one don’t put it in parenthesis after the word. Just substitute the next time you would use the word or phrase and shorten it. That’s all there is to it. But make sure it makes sense what the abbreviation belongs to otherwise I’m going to be confused to. And if your copy editor doesn’t get it your readers most likely won’t either. So keep that in mind.