When to Use Acronyms on Resumes and in Business Writings

It was an accident. We swear.I'm often asked when it's okay to use acronyms when writing business letters, websites, in presentations, and on resumes and the like. The quick answer: almost never on the first reference.

Acronyms (a new word formed with the first letter of a group of words) are wonderful for communicating with a specific group you know is familiar with the acronym. It's when you're reaching a broader audience and you assume they know an acronym that you'll fail to connect with your audience ... or worse, lose the reader altogether because combining all those bold, capital letters that mean nothing to them have given them a seizure. I'm telling you, acronyms are bad for your health unless used with utmost caution. Ask your doctor. 

Here's the cure: unless you can procure an accurate answer from six people of different ages, genders, and regions of the United States, you must spell out your acronym on first reference. No exceptions. Directly after the first reference, put the acronym in parentheses and use it for the remainder of the document. Here's an example from a news release I wrote a couple of years ago:
Women In Technology (WIT), is pleased to announce WIT’s executive director, Heather Rocker, has been named the winner in the Inspiritor Category for Turknett Leadership Group’s Leadership Character awards. The winners were announced at the awards luncheon at the Georgia Aquarium on February 23, 2010.
Notice how it's all spelled out the first reference, then a few words later we transition to the much shorter acronym. Saves a lot of time and paper, that's for sure. 

There are certain acronyms that defy this rule. For example, if you were to write "a producer from  the Cable News Network (CNN) will be attending the seminar to answer questions" people will think you're nuts. CNN falls under the "ask six people" rule.

On professional documents like resumes and bios, spell out the acronyms for associations  ---always. I always get arguments on this rule. "But everyone knows what SHRM/CRM/PRSA is." Assume they don't, and spell out Society for Human Resource Management, Customer Relationship Management, and Public Relations Society of America the first time. You only need the acronym in parenthesis if you reference the organization more than once, and since you're all about being brief in a resume/bio/website (you are, right?), try combining tasks and roles under one reference instead.

Now I am feeling guilty about dumping all this on you right before the weekend. I really meant to do this much earlier in the week, but the spouse travelling in Europe, wrestling puppies and shuttling kids to the ER will totally throw ya off track. So if you decide to update resumes and documents and websites and whatnot because you are addicted to acronyms, please enjoy a glass of wine or something (click here for a delightful mixed drink recipe) while you do. 

Here's to a happy, productive, relaxing weekend!

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Strategic Volunteering Guru said...

How fun to be used as one of your writing examples! I feel famous.

Amy Mac said...

You are TOTALLY famous. Definitely.