• 3-minute read
  • 4th November 2017

6 Tips for Using Abbreviations in Academic Writing

Academic writing can be a bit… wordy. As such, anything that makes your work more concise is usually welcome. Perhaps that’s why abbreviations are so common in essays!

But if you’re going to use abbreviations in your writing, you need to do it right. To help you out with this, we’ve prepared a quick guide to using abbreviations in academic work.

1. Acronyms and Initialisms

Some of the most common abbreviations are acronyms and initialisms. These are made up of the initial letters in a phrase. For instance:

AWOL = Away Without Official Leave

FBI = Federal Bureau of Investigation

Technically, acronyms are pronounced as a single word, whereas the letters in initialisms are pronounced separately. Despite this, you’ll often see the term ‘acronym’ applied to initialisms.

Hence this guy is an ‘eff-bee-eye’ agent, not a ‘fuh-bhi’ agent.

The key to using these in academic writing is introducing them on the first use. This is done by giving the abbreviation in brackets after the full term, such as in the following:

Hugh Jackman went to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), passing up a role in Neighbours to study full time. WAAPA’s other alumni…

After an acronym or initialism has been defined like this, it can be used in place of the full term.

2. Latin Abbreviations

Academic writing uses a lot of Latin abbreviations. Some of these are common in everyday life, such as ‘e.g.’ (short for exempli gratia) and i.e. (short for id est). But others are more specific.

The terms ‘et al.’ and ‘ibid.’, for instance, are among several Latin abbreviations used in referencing. Your university style guide should set out whether (and how) you need to use these words when citing sources in an essay.

3. Titles, Measurements and Dates

Abbreviations of titles, measurements and dates are also common. For instance:

Term Type

Abbreviated When…

Titles (e.g. Mr, Mrs, Dr)

Used before a name

Measurements (e.g. cm, Kg)

Used in technical or scientific work; reporting results

Days and Months (e.g. Sept.)

Used in informal writing or when not part of a sentence

In situations other than those noted above, it is usually best to write out these terms in full. Remember to check your style guide if you’re not sure.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

4. Punctuating Abbreviations

Some abbreviated terms are followed by a full stop, but the rules for this can seem confusing.

In Australian English, we add a full stop when an abbreviation only includes the first part of a word (e.g. writing ‘Prof.’ instead of ‘Professor’). If an abbreviation ends in the same letter as the full word, however, no full stop is required (e.g. using ‘Dr’ instead of ‘Doctor’).

5. Contractions

Contractions (e.g. writing ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘is not’) are common in everyday language. However, they are informal, so they should not be used in academic writing!

6. Listing Abbreviations

Finally, if you use a lot of abbreviations in your work, you may want to add a list of abbreviations near the start of your document. This is especially common in theses and dissertations, as these are likely to contain many acronyms and other abbreviated terms.

Comments (0)

Get help from a language expert.

Try our proofreading services for free.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.