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Using Acronyms

Often in academic writing, you will need to use an acronym. We often see these being used improperly, especially the first time they are used in an essay. So, how can you avoid using these incorrectly?

What is an Acronym?

An acronym is a word formed from the first letter or letters of an organisation or phrase, instead of its full name, for example ‘UNESCO’. People often think that if an acronym is very well known there is no need to explain it- in fact, many people would forget that an acronym as common as ‘UNESCO’ even stands for something in full. It’s almost as if very common acronyms take on the status of words. However, ‘UNESCO’ stands for ‘United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’ and you absolutely must explain this in an academic context. Although the acronym may be obvious to you, it may baffle others, especially if it is specific to your topic.

How to use Acronyms in Academic Writing

When writing an academic piece, you must assume that your audience will not understand any acronyms you use, even if they are well known ones. The first time you use it, you should write out the full phrase in brackets following the acronym, like so:

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

You can then continue to refer to it as ‘UNESCO’ throughout your essay.

Make sure you check the first instance of the acronym!

A very common problem is the fact that many people edit and re-order their essays at the last minute. In doing so, you may overlook the fact that the first time your acronym is used hasn’t been explained. Use the ‘find’ function to look for the first instance of the acronym and make sure you have explained it.


  • Make sure that your acronym has been explained the first time it is used
  • Use the find function to check that the explanation is matched with the first instance of the acronym
  • Send your work off for a final proofread before submitting it.

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