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SimulTrans Localization Blog: SimulTips

Avoiding Acronyms and Abbreviations when Writing Content for a Global Audience

[fa icon="calendar"] September 11, 2017 / by Margarita Núñez

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When you have been in your specific industry for any amount of time, acronyms and abbreviations begin to creep up in your everyday speech. This is because you know  what they are meant to represent in your industry and in your own organization, and that your colleagues will understand what you say. Acronyms and abbreviations exist in all areas of life from Medicine to Religion.

But why do we tend to use acronyms and abbreviations so often?Because it takes less time to say or write the first initial of each word or an abbreviated form of the full word than to spell out every single word. So using acronyms and abbreviations in your everyday speech makes communication easier and faster. I know this for a fact because in the localization industry we have a lot of acronyms and use a lot of abbreviations!Here are a few examples of the acronyms and abbreviations that we use:

  • Talking (or writing) about TEP for a PROJ is much easier than spelling out Translation, Editing, and Proofreading for a Project in your emails, texts, and chats.
  • Asking a colleague to check if a MKTG PROJ is suitable for MT, it is way easier than to say Marketing Project for Machine Translation.
  • Requesting from an audio engineer to determine if there is any OST in a video is faster than saying On Screen Text.
  • Submitting a project for QA is easier than submitting it for Quality Assurance.

Why Avoiding Acronyms is a Good Idea

An acronym (from Latin acro- meaning “beginning” + -onym meaning “word, name”) is a pronounceable word formed mostly (but not always) from the initial letters of a descriptive name or title. While these habits may work alright around your own organization, if you are a technical writer and are considering writing global content that will be published (like technical guides, instructions for use, quick reference guides, protocols, submissions, etc.) then avoiding acronyms is a must. This is particularly true if your global content is going to be translated into other languages.

Why?

Because it is rare, if at all, that an acronym actually translates well into another language. An exception would be the more universally used acronyms, for instance International Organization for Standardization (ISO); but most acronyms do not translate well. There are many problems with relying on acronyms and abbreviations when writing content for translation, but the loss of the initial meaning of your writing is the biggest one.

Advice

As a general rule, you should write out completely the meaning of the abbreviation or acronym when you first use it, including the acronym itself in parentheses.

Here are a few examples:

  • Electronic Clinical Outcome Assessments (eCOA) employs technology such as smartphones, tablets, and personal computers to allow patients, clinicians, and their caregivers to directly report outcomes.
  • Understanding Early Access Programs (EAPs) in the pharma domain for clinical trials recruitment is essential for success.
  • Some companies sell Interactive Response Technology (IRT) for Clinical Trials (CT).
  • A Contract Research Organization (CRO) is an organization that provides support to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries in the form of research services outsourced on a contract basis. 
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses the ALCOA (attributable, legible, contemporaneous, original, and accurate) acronym as a guide to their expectations regarding evidence (both paper-based, electronic, and hybrid).

Therefore, it is best to assume that acronyms are specific to your country and to consistently spell out the full word or phrase for every instance to aid the translator in finding the correct translation. Trying to translate them into another language becomes nearly impossible when you rely on acronyms to provide context.

Why Using Abbreviations is a bad idea

The definition of an abbreviation is a shortened form of something. For instance the shortened version of abbreviation itself is abbr. Though not quite as tricky as acronyms, there are a number of problems with using an abbreviation over full words, particularly when you are working with the English language. English is an extremely complex language that is incredibly difficult on its own. When you add abbreviations to your global content you muddy the waters further because translators do not work from abbreviations. They need the full words to ensure they have the proper starting point.

Example:

If you write the word prob, it could have several different meanings, and the context may not make it easy to determine what you actually mean.
  • Prob can mean: probably, probability, probable, probation, or proboscis. While some of these can obviously be eliminated, others cannot. It will take the translator time (and that means money to you) to come up with the correct description of prob.
  • PM can mean: Profit Margin, Product Manager, Project Manager, Program Manager. Again depending on the context the translator will eliminate some options, but it will be difficult to decide which is the correct one. 

Words, not acronyms or abbreviations are necessary for a translator to know what you are trying to say. Letters on their own can mean a lot of different things.By avoiding the use of acronyms, and avoiding abbreviating words, the context of the term itself or phrase becomes much clearer and easier to translate which in turn will be cheaper for you as it will reduce the amount of corrections.

If you would like to learn more about writing for a global audience download our free white paper now!Download White Paper:  Writing for a Global Audience

Topics: Documentation Translation

Margarita Núñez

Written by Margarita Núñez

Margarita serves as SimulTrans’ Director responsible for European sales, overseeing a team of account managers who build and maintain relationships with customers. She travels frequently throughout Europe, advising clients on best practices in the industry and helping them successfully localize their products for a global market. Margarita has spent over 20 years in the localization industry.