Abbreviations are primarily used for titles and names. Whenever used for titles, it is important to remember that the name of the person must follow the title in order to abbreviate it. For title abbreviations periods are used at the end of the abbreviation to denote that it is an abbreviated word such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., etc. For names like John F. Kennedy (shortened to JFK), the period is not needed as the initials of JFK are so recognizable that people understand that it is an abbreviation.
An abbreviation is simply a shortened form of a word or phrase. There are several different ways of abbreviating words or phrases and we will briefly discuss all of them: Acronyms, initialisms, contractions, and the basic abbreviation of words.
First, let’s clear up any confusion related to acronyms vs initialisms. If you weren’t wondering about this, well, prepare to remain not-confused. An acronym is when you take a group of words and abbreviate them to a single word using the first letters of those words, and then pronounce the resulting group of letters, such as NATO or laser. An initialism is an acronym were you don’t pronounce the group of letters as a word, such as BBC or CIA. Alright, I guess that wasn’t that hard. Generally, you don’t need to put periods between the letters of an acronym.
Acronyms such as the ones I’ve already mentioned are acceptable in formal and informal writing. However, you should always spell them out the first time you use them in a paper. This will ensure your readers know what specifically you are referring to. This will also help reduce the amount of unnecessary jargon in your writing. Some people enjoy using acronyms to obfuscate and impress rather than to communicate. You shouldn’t do this.
Contractions: You almost certainly use contractions every day. This is when internal letters or sounds are eliminated, oftentimes when two words commonly used together are joined into one word with an apostrophe to indicate where the second word was truncated. “Cannot” becomes “can’t” and “is not” becomes “isn’t.” Some contractions, such as “Dr.” for “doctor” or “ms.” for “missus” are acceptable in formal writing, while most contractions that aren’t titles are not permitted in formal writing. In American English, periods are used after these titles.
You should put a period at the end of generic abbreviations, such as “Wed.” for “Wednesday” or “Jan.” for “January.” When referring to a state, you should check your style guide to see what it requires. Generally, when abbreviating a state name, a period is placed at the end. Postal abbreviations are always two uppercase letters, usually without a period. Again, spelling out the word is preferred.
Alright, bonus tip: Anacronyms such as laser, scuba, and radar, are “an acronym of which the constituent letters are taken from words that are unfamiliar to most people,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. It literally translates to “without acronym.” These are usually written in lowercase, but there aren’t many and you probably already either use them correctly or don’t use them at all, so no need to worry. And in case you’re wondering, “laser” stands for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.”
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