Rooting out unrecognizable acronyms
In a letter we printed March 31, Kathlene J. Manser of Janesville argued that “communication between individuals, and between individuals and groups, is inherently difficult. A plethora of acronyms makes things worse…”
For example, she wrote, “My TNA membership had several people guessing eight organizations without finding the right one—Texas Nurses Association.
“What is needed is a group dedicated to getting rid of existing acronyms and preventing the formation of new ones: STEA, Society to Eliminate Acronyms.”
Little did Manser know that The Gazette newsroom’s Style Committee has spent time over the last several months working on just such a plan.
I'm on the committee, and this week, we sent a message to our staff that reads, in part: “In general, our new policy strives to avoid them in stories to avoid writing ‘alphabet soup.’ We’ll use alternatives, such as ‘the agency’ or ‘the division’ on second reference for Division of Motor Vehicles,’ and ‘the department’ for second reference to the Department of Transportation, etc. … In headlines, acronyms are more acceptable, but strive to add context for readers. For example, DPI is OK to use in a headline, but writing ‘DPI fears cuts’ tells the reader little about the subject. Better: ‘DPI fears cuts will harm education.’”
DPI, for those who don’t know, stands for the state Department of Public Instruction.
Here is an example of another specific change. We no longer want to use the acronym RSVP. Most people know that to mean you’re supposed to respond to some invitation to a gathering. Rock County, however, has an organization known as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program that greatly benefits our communities. That program’s RSVP acronym, however, can confuse readers, so our plan is to no longer use it. Instead, we'll spell out the name on first reference, and on second reference, we’ll call it simply "the program."
That doesn’t mean all acronyms will disappear from our pages. Our committee hopes, however, that you’ll see fewer of them and that these changes will make our stories easier to read and understand.
Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter or