- On January 22, 2019
A social worker walks into a patient’s hospital room and says to the patient’s wife, “You have to move him tomorrow to an L.T.A.C.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the wife responds. “What’s an L.T.A.C?”
This exchange appeared in a recent New York Times article about health literacy—the ability to understand basic information in order to make appropriate health decisions.
L.T.A.C., which stands for long-term acute care [hospital], might be a mouthful, but it’s what the social worker should have said.
Business writing is littered with abbreviations, having much the same effect on readers as the social worker’s shorthand had on the patient’s wife.
Associated Press guidelines, which most companies follow, say not to write in abbreviations or acronyms (words formed from the first letter, or letters, of a series of words, for example YOLO for you only live once), unless they are universally recognized—like CIA and FBI. Abbreviations hinder comprehension. And often a single abbreviation can stand for many different things.
The A.P. guidelines are also clear about something that seems to be summarily ignored: Do not follow a full name with an abbreviation or acronym in parentheses. If you choose to use an abbreviation or acronym in the second reference—as I did to start this paragraph—it should be clear to the reader what the abbreviation stands for on its own. I assumed that you would know that A.P. refers to the Associated Press.
In general, minimize your use of abbreviations and acronyms. Your readers will thank you—and better yet, they’ll know what you’re talking about.