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Letters to a Young Manager

Acronyms, #327
LTYM > Communication

Dear Sophie,
Acronyms often hinder communication rather than help. Too many reports have a page or two of acronyms and their definitions, so when a reader gets stuck in the text, they can flip back and get the meaning. Why do we do that? Usually only insiders get the frequent use of an acronym. It rarely helps outsiders.

I used to think that the technology industry had the most acronyms in need of explaining. Then I joined a nonprofit. It was as if they were speaking another language. Even the name NGO makes you stop and think if you're not on the inside.

The United Nations system raises this even further to an art form of obfuscation. The worst case is perhaps the UN (and NGO) use of IDP, or Internally Displaced Person, someone who is a refugee in their own country.

The military is another rampant offender of acronym-itis. Robin Williams' classic line in "Good Morning Vietnam" pokes perfect fun at the practice. Here's the clip: about Vice President Nixon's impending visit to the troops, that concludes with:

"Seeing how the VP is such a VIP shouldn't we keep the QC on the QT cause if he falls to the VC he could end up MIA and then we all be put on KP."

Any idea what he is saying? Check out the acronym dictionary with over a million entries:

Better yet, insist on your reports spelling out the words rather than the acronym. After all, we are all using word processing apps; do a global search and replace. Quick and easy.



Speaking in code is for insiders only

Discussion Questions:

1. How much longer would a report be with all acronyms spelled out? Ten percent? Twenty?
2. How much more readable would it be for the outsider (who is often a supporter or a customer)?

For Further Reading:

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