‘Acronymitis’ is defined in contemporary dictionaries as the excessive use of acronyms.
In considering the benefits, there is no doubt that the use of the TLA or FLA (aka the ‘three-letter acronym’ or ‘four-letter acronym’) saves time especially in written communications. This is particularly evident for standard risk and safety industry jargon such as BCP, HAZOP, PPE, etc. etc.
Acronyms can also aid clarity and help form a culture or sub-culture within an organisation or specific work-group, underpinned by a specific language or ‘coding’. They have also been proven to improve memorability – when the acronym is catchy, it resonates with the users. The ‘catchy’ acronym also helps with marketing a new system or process – such as the very memorable acronym for the Electrical Low Voltage Infrastructure System or ELVIS (… for reasons unknown the end-users remember this).
While these benefits are real, the use and over-use of acronyms is fraught with danger, especially when organisations tacitly endorse the promulgation of more acronyms specific to their organisation or industry. This is compounded by the issue of the same acronym meaning different things across different industries.
The point of concern comes when the communication process becomes distorted; when people aren’t even aware of their acronym usage; and when they haven’t considered whether the means by which they are communicating is appropriate for the receiver (e.g. a colleague, an external contractor or a member of the public). This hinders an understanding (or a full understanding) being gained. (And naturally there are inevitable instances where the recipients do not ask for clarification worried they’ll be perceived for not knowing the requisite jargon.)
‘Acronymitis’ has also led to the emergence of the ‘acronym guides’ to aid the understanding of what the organisation is talking about … but how efficient is the use of acronyms if a worker needs to check what is being spoken about via a page defining them?
With the potential disconnect between the delivered information and the received / interpreted information, there is the obvious potential for mistakes or disagreements based on false interpretations.
The critical issue is for the ‘deliverer’ of the information to ensure that the ‘receiver’ clearly understands the meaning of the acronym; and the key test for an acronym is whether it positively or negatively impacts the communication processes, internally and externally, for the organisation.
Please contact QRMC for more information.