Business Writing Tip #51—Abbreviations

Recently a friend contacted me and asked, ‘Is it am and pm, or a.m. and p.m., or A.M. and P.M. or AM and PM?’

Turns out, it doesn’t really matter which set of abbreviations you choose when you’re talking about time. What matters is that you are consistent. So if you choose ‘am’, then you use ‘pm’. If you choose ‘A.M.’, then it’s also ‘P.M.’, and so it goes on …abbreviation wordle

But not all abbreviations come with this degree of flexibility. It’s not so much that there are ‘rules’. It’s more that people have agreed, over time, on some common usages.

Here are a few guidelines to help you out:

  • For job titles where the first few letters are written and the rest of the word omitted, we usually put a full stop at the end—Rev. for Reverend, Prof. for Professor
  • If an abbreviation uses the first and last letters of a word, we usually OMIT the full stop—Dr for Doctor, Ltd for Limited
  • Many abbreviations which used to take include full stops, have lost those in modern usage—UK for United Kingdom (not U.K.), USA for the United States of America (not U.S.A.), BBC for the British Broadcasting Corporation (not B.B.C.), NHS not N.H.S., CD not C.D., D J Trost not D.J. Trost, etc.
  • When you are using an abbreviation which is likely to be unfamiliar to your readers, spell out the full word or words first and include the abbreviation in brackets, then use the abbreviation for the rest of the document.

The important thing is to be consistent. I know I mentioned the idea of using a style guide in a previous blog post. If you are preparing a style guide for your organization, it’s important to include abbreviations in it.

Oh, and another thing. If your sentence ends with an abbreviation and you’ve decided to use full stops, only put one full stop, not two.

Hope this helps.


6 thoughts on “Business Writing Tip #51—Abbreviations

  1. This helped me alot because I have used some abbreviations just for my own privilege of writing the short version of words when taking minutes.

    • I agree that having a system of abbreviations, whether it’s your own or some standard abbreviations, is really helpful when you’re taking notes from what people are saying…When I’m taking notes I often use b4, gr8, Q8 (Kuwait), and orgn, and initials instead of people’s names. I also have a little squiggle that means ‘people’ which I use but my keyboard won’t write it! It’s definitely worth taking the time to become familiar with abbreviations you can use, particularly for words that come up often in the discussion…

    • In auto correction in Word you can make your own set of abbreviations of words or parts of sentenses that are often used when talking notes.

  2. Very pertinent info! Thanks for sharing! I was actually just wondering about the “a.m./PM” rules last week. FYI: (capital letters?) There’s a grammatical error in this article (which, of course, doesn’t look professional, especially for an article explaining grammaticism)

    ◾Many abbreviations which used to take include full stops, have lost those in…. (I assume the word “take” should’ve been removed?)

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