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Abbreviations and Acronyms

To assure that the meanings of acronyms and abbreviations are clear to everyone, it is ideal to establish a writing style policy for your site. Frequently, an acronym/abbreviation is written out in words the first time it appears, but then, the short form can be used on the page after that. One approach may be to write the short form, but then expand it in parentheses the first time it appears.

It is best to take your audiences into account as you consider where, and when, to use short forms of terms or organization names.

Sometimes, developing a glossary page, or writing out an organization's name (at least on an "About us" page), can be helpful. Perhaps most important, your site visitors will appreciate consistency.

How to Code Abbreviations and Acronyms

When appropriate, use the <abbr> element to expand short forms in your documents. For example:

The IT manager is responsible for delivering the system.

A screen reader will speak this as "the it manager..." and not as "the eye-tee manager...", which is what a sighted person reading it would understand. The following code will make the expanded information available to those who want or need it:

The <abbr title="Information Technology">IT</abbr> manager is responsible for delivering the system.

You can test this now in any modern browser. Put the mouse cursor over some text marked up with the acronym or abbr tag, and you will see the title= text string appear as a "tool-tip". For example, hover over "IT" in the sentence below:

  • The IT manager is responsible for delivering the system.

You may want to add some styling to the <abbr> element:

abbr { border-bottom: 1px dotted; cursor:help; }

Target Audience: 
Content Creator
Last modified: 
February 3, 2014