Explain Everything Unless All Your Readers Will Understand

In Chapter One, we discussed how acronyms impact readers' perceptions about the formality or informality of your communications. Acronyms and technical terminology need to be explained, defined, or referenced unless 100 percent of your readers understand the jargon. Keep in mind that even if most of your readers know what you mean, some might not. Be sensitive to guests and newcomers. Acronyms can be useful as shorthand, but they can be confusing to readers who aren't familiar with your terminology. When in doubt, write it out.

The traditional way to handle acronyms is to write out the complete term, name, title, department, or phrase the first time it's used, and then to indicate the acronym within parentheses. Once you've followed this format, you may confidently use only the acronym thereafter. For example:

English as a Foreign Language (EFL) courses will begin on Wednesday.

Tuition for all EFL courses will be reimbursed for employees who achieve a passing grade.

Instead of using parentheses, you might choose a different approach. You might use a glossary, sidebar, footnotes, or endnotes, for exam ple, to explain or define all terminology.

Kathleen, the administrative assistant to the chief executive officer (CEO) of a physical therapy provider, decided to use a sidebar in her newsletter. "The newsletter goes to patients. 'ROM' means 'range of motion' and is a much-used term in the industry. But if you've just started working with us to get back full use of your arm, you may not be familiar with the term 'ROM.' To define it in every article, or even in every issue of the newsletter, was a pain and seemed like overkill. But I knew that some people receiving each issue wouldn't know the jargon. What I did was create a sidebar on the cover. I called it 'Jargon' and defined all the terms used in that issue. That way I didn't have to worry about it at all." Titling the glossary "Jargon" is a nice touch; it lets readers know that ignorance is expected.

Successful business writing demands clarity. Make it easy, not hard, for your readers to get your message.

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