If you are here you may have asked whether you can use abbreviations in academic writing or how one can use abbreviations in APA format. You can certainly use abbreviations in your articles, essays and research proposals if you know how and where to use them. (Also learn about using abbreviations in Chicago and MLA format)
When it comes to writing any document using APA formatting, it’s easy to get confused by the process. APA formatting is by no means easy, and it can be surprisingly simple to make a mistake that ruins the whole style of your writing. One common issue when writing APA papers and content is that you might make a mistake with regards to how abbreviations are going to be used. This can be surprisingly complex.
Abbreviations are something that you should try and limit the use of when you can. For the most part, though, you should only look to use abbreviations which are common knowledge and standard for that reference. For example, if you are talking about the National Health Service in the UK, it’s fine to use NHS. The other main reason to use abbreviations is if it will allow you to justifiably avoid wasting space.
However, for the most part, you should avoid using abbreviations as much as you can. It’s often better for the reader for the whole word to be typed out. However, if you are spending a few paragraphs – or even pages – talking about one particular subject, such as the NHS, it makes sense to abbreviate it at this time.
At the same time, don’t feel as if you need to avoid using abbreviations altogether. If you are going to use an abbreviation, the accepted wisdom is that it must appear a minimum of three times in the paper. Any less than this, and you run the risk of making it easy for the person reading your paper to forget what you are talking about.
So, the general rule of thumb is to only use abbreviations when you think they are going to make a genuinely positive impact for the reader.
You should always make sure that you use the full term first. So, in the example of the NHS, it would make sense to write National Health Service (NHS) and then refer to it as the NHS from this point moving on. It’s a very important thing to keep in mind, as it should be something you make clear. You don’t want anyone to feel needlessly confused by what you have put down on paper, so keep that in mind.
However, please note that when it comes to things that are common knowledge then you could use abbreviations from the start. For example, if you are discussing a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will not have to write out the full name – you can simply get away with using UNESCO. The same applies for things like units of measurement.
Even things like common medical terms – such as HIV – could be written without having to give the full name first. The challenge is that you have to work out what is and is not common knowledge. APA permits any abbreviations which appear as a word in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. If you are ever unsure about expanding on an abbreviation, you should check that out for some useful ideas on whether or not you can use the intended abbreviation that you had in mind!
Also, try and avoid using periods unless it’s in the name. So, for example, the popular writer G. R. R. Martin should get his periods included. The same goes for some countries – such as the United States. If you are talking about someone in political power in the USA, you would say U.S. President or U.S. Senator etc.
It’s a tough thing to get your head around but using the above should make it a bit easier to understand when (and when not) to use abbreviations in APA format.