Which goes in parentheses? An abbreviation or a full form?


When we provide the full name of a term, and define its abbreviation, which one goes in parentheses? The full form or the abbreviation? I have observed both! If both are OK, which one is more formal?


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This is just an example. I want to know this in every possible manner.

Maulik V

Posted 2014-02-28T10:23:32.417

Reputation: 66 188

@snailplane Oh yeah, that's exactly. I always search before putting question here but could not find this. Maybe, I used into bracket that led to some other results. What you advise now? Should I delete this question or let others come and given their opinions? – Maulik V – 2014-02-28T10:45:07.477

I don't see any harm in leaving this question open. After all, on ELU the question was closed as unfit for the site; maybe it'll find a better home here, the way you've chosen to phrase it :-) – snailplane – 2014-02-28T10:49:27.337

My suggestion would be to use the first if your audience is likely to already be familiar with the abbreviation, and the second otherwise. – Peter Shor – 2014-02-28T11:01:25.263

@PeterShor Well, when I write, I write for everyone without knowing who knows how much! – Maulik V – 2014-02-28T11:03:00.820

The latter is more common in formal documents, especially when the term is used the first time in the document. (It's strange that I observe the opposite in my first language.) – Damkerng T. – 2014-02-28T12:40:40.790

Parentheses are rounded (like this). Square brackets are rectangular [like this]. Braces, also known as "curly brackets", are curly with points {like this}. – Jasper – 2014-12-24T19:02:44.020



The main reason for which this method was created is to avoid repetition of the full name.

You will write first the full name followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Later on, whenever want to use the term in text, write only the abbreviation.

Recently, I have found an useful link to the American Society for Microbiology’s site where are discussed abbreviations and conventions:

Define each abbreviation and introduce it in parentheses the first time it is used; e.g., “cultures were grown in Eagle minimal essential medium (MEM).” Generally, eliminate abbreviations that are not used at least three times in the text (including tables and figure legends).

Lucian Sava

Posted 2014-02-28T10:23:32.417

Reputation: 11 342


As far as I have observed, In formal contexts, it is common to write the full title or term and then provide the abbreviation whether in parentheses or along the main sentence using "henceforth" or "hereinafter". Take a look at this example from an UNESCO convention (1):

"The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization hereinafter referred to as UNESCO, meeting in Paris, from 29 September to 17 October 2003, at its 32nd session,"

(1) http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/convention

Furthermore, I found 'HART PUBLISHING STYLE GUIDELINES' helpful:

2.10.4 Abbreviations and Acronyms It is best to give the full name of an Institution or Official Body in the first instance and indicate in parentheses the abbreviation or acronym by which it will be referred to in the following text: The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) NB it is not necessary to use quotation marks within the parentheses in such instances. If the majority of your readers or general usage commonly uses the abbreviation or acronym eg, NATO, you should consider whether, on first use, the abbreviation should be expanded, ie, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).


Posted 2014-02-28T10:23:32.417

Reputation: 19


In newspapers the journalists throw abbreviations at your head and you don't know what the author is talking about. And often you find the explanation of the abbreviation far below in the text or not at all. I don't know if there are rules about using abbreviations, but it should be a good habit to write the word in full and to give the abbreviation in brackets when you want to use an abbreviation. This way it is clear what the abbreviation stands for.

It is a nuisance to use abbreviations that are not introduced properly. But a lot of journalists seem to have never thought about this problem.


Posted 2014-02-28T10:23:32.417

Reputation: 8 304