Australian Government,  Blog post,  Communications professional

The fight against acronyms

Primarily, I work with government clients. I have worked across the APS and there is one common problem. SMEs do it, the SES do it, and it drives me insane. It does matter if you are at DAWE, DISER, OTA, DESE, AFSA or CER you all do it. It’s a problem I have been fighting for my whole career. I mean YOLO, so you have to be passionate about something right?

My passion – the use of acronyms. I hate them. Help me fight the good fight. #STOPUSINGACRONYMS

I know what you’re thinking NBD. But TBH it drives me insane. I can never decide if people do it because they are lazy, they think it’s more efficient or makes them seem smarter. As someone who often comes in new to a topic, a new organisation and you want my help to communicate to the public. It leaves me SMH.

I used to work at the CER, we worked on NGER, SRES, LRET and ERF. We issued ACCUS, ERUs and CERs through ANREU. I got it, my team got it, most of my colleagues understood. You know what you’re talking about and assume everyone else does too. But you would be wrong.

What acronyms do is alienate people. For those that don’t have the same familiarity with the topic you do, it leaves them confused and feeling isolated. Often we think its ok to use them internally. However, we have all had TFW you walk into a new department and it’s like everyone is speaking a different language. You might ask what things mean for a week or so, but then you don’t want to seem dumb so you just stop and hope you can figure it out. For our clients or the public, it is like making an assumption that they know what we are talking about and live and breathe it as much as we do.

At best acronyms make the reader or listener have to slow down their comprehension, as they try to translate the acronym and ensure they understand the reference. Using acronyms may feel more efficient for you but it’s not for the reader. How have you gone so far in this post? How many times have you had to reread a sentence?

By using acronyms, we put all of the onus on the other person to work out what we mean. Gabrielle Dolan recently said in a training course I attended with her “If you are the one doing the communicating, it’s your responsibility to ensure the audience hears what you are trying to say.” So don’t be lazy just write the words out, it doesn’t make you smarter or faster when someone has to follow up to ask what you mean.

Using acronyms can also lead to confusion and misunderstandings. SME in government is Subject Matter Expert, but in the financial sector can be Small to Medium Enterprise. Did you think when I mentioned SMH earlier it meant Sydney Morning Herald or Shake My Head?

In a world of hashtags, text messages and social media the use of acronyms seems to have gotten worse. Now, not only am I faced with it every day at work, but I get FOMO by not being able to understand what people are talking about online.

Fight the good fight with me and stop using acronyms, even internally! #STOPUSINGACRONYMS.

Glossary for this article

In case you were completely lost while reading this article here is an explanation of the acronyms I used:

  • ACCUS – Australian Carbon Credit Units
  • AFSA – Australian Financial Services Authority
  • ANREU – Australian National Registry of Emissions Units
  • CER – Clean Energy Regulator
  • CERs – Certified Emission Reduction Units
  • DAWE – Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
  • DESE – Department of Education, Skills and Employment
  • DISER – Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
  • ERF – Emissions Reduction Fund
  • ERUs – Emissions Reduction Units
  • FOMO – Fear of missing out
  • LRET – Large-scale Renewable Energy Target
  • NBD – No big deal
  • NGER – National Greenhosue and Energy Reporting
  • OTA – Organ and Tissue Authority
  • TBH – To be honest
  • SRES – Small-scale renewable energy scheme
  • TFW – that feel when

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