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1.02 General guidelines and observations

Many abbreviations will not be understood unless the term is written in full at first mention, with the abbreviation given in parentheses. Follow these general rules:

  • In general, abbreviate words only when the short form will be immediately recognized by the reader, and ensure that the same abbreviation is used elsewhere in your text to represent the word or words involved.
  • Some standard abbreviations such as i.e., AD, IQ, ESP, CBC and MP do not have to be spelled out because they are well known and in many cases occur as dictionary entries.
  • Many commonly used words that are actually abbreviations are now rarely regarded as such, including ad, fridge, phone, exam, memo, photo and math. Most such words should be avoided in formal writing, although cello and bus are exceptions to this rule.
  • Unless you are confident that the reader will know exactly what the abbreviation stands for, write the term in full at first mention, with the abbreviation following in parentheses:
    • Several government departments were amalgamated to form Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).
  • Common abbreviations often in the news need not be spelled out if the full term is rarely used or is difficult to pronounce:
    • DNA
      • deoxyribonucleic acid
    • HIV
      • human immunodeficiency virus
    • 3M
      • Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company
    • RCMP
      • Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • If in doubt about the correct abbreviation, use the long form.