Making Sense of TLAs

By 21st February 2017PR Savvy, Word Savvy

Ah, how technology loves an acronym, preferably a three-letter abbreviation. Of course, it makes things easier for those in the know. It’s a short-hand which speeds up communication and tips its hat to the reader or listener’s knowledge.

When it works, acronym use recognises a shared understanding and builds a sense of togetherness. But it can leave people out and, when it doesn’t work, outsiders can think they’ve understood, but actually the acronym means something else to them. Does, “We will target this offering at SMEs” mean Small & Medium-sized Enterprises, or Subject Matter Experts?

In The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Stephen Pinker recommends either spelling out your acronym, or even better, using a term which isn’t an acronym, plus adding a few words of explanation and an example.

We just worked with Blue Badge Style to do this. The style guide for people with disabilities needed a new, more accessible name for their PADs. PAD stood for Pictorial Access Description. A good does-what-it-says-on-the-tin name, but the abbreviation is confusing. It’s too close to iPad and it doesn’t suggest images.

These photographic journeys through a venue use discreet pins to point out things like steps, floor surfaces and rails. Useful information for guests with disabilities. They’re now known as the Blue Badge Style Gallery, as the founder says, ‘Gallery is so much easier; everyone gets it immediately”.

PADs needed explaining, Gallery is clear from the outset, it just needs an example. And occasionally an image is even better than words.