We use abbreviations and acronyms every day without thinking about them, and we instantly know the meaning of many of them – abbreviations like FAQs, ETA, IQ, DVDs … And today's text language is full of abbreviations LOL (or lol if you are of the younger generation).
When writing, it can be confusing knowing how to write abbreviations and acronyms correctly, and as there are only small style variations, it doesn’t always look wrong to use one or the other.
However, to make your writing look professional, there are some style decisions you will need to make when writing in New Zealand English text, so we’ll have a look at what the options are.
As always, rule number one is to be consistent within a document, and even across all your writing. It doesn’t look professional, and can cause confusion, if you have, for example, 9 am in one place, but
9 a.m. in another.
But first things first: what are abbreviations and acronyms?
What’s the difference between abbreviations and acronyms?
The terms abbreviations and acronyms refer to the shortened forms of words, names or phrases. In fact, there are also other terms for specific definitions of the shortened forms of words and phrases. However, these specific definitions can overlap depending on what style guide you are using.
And just to make it confusing (or, maybe, simpler), the term abbreviation is often used as an overall term for all the definitions – which is what I will do in this article to simplify things.
The New Oxford Style Manual and Fit to Print have these definitions:
Abbreviation: a short form of a word created by removing the ends of words. For example, cent. and assoc. (See ‘Punctuation’ below on punctuating abbreviations compared with contractions).
Acronym: an abbreviation created by using the initial letter of several words which are pronounced as a new word. For example, PIN, Unesco, Aids, NASA and radar.
Initialism: similar to an acronym, but the letters do not make a pronounceable word and are said individually. For example, ANZ, KPI and BMI.
Contraction: a short form created by using the first letter(s) and last letter(s) of a word. For example, Mrs, St, dept and Dr.
Symbols and signs: these are symbols which represent a word, for example %, $ or #.
How to write abbreviations
Rule number 2 is that abbreviations can be used to speed up reading and save space, but should not cause confusion.
Short form or spelled out?
The first time the term is used, it should be spelled out in full, with the abbreviation in brackets. Or, if it is a common term, the spelled-out version can be in the brackets.
The World Union for Abbreviations (WUA) is renowned for succinct text.
Some people who use computers often have RSI (repetitive strain injury).
Here are some general rules about using abbreviations in specific situations.
New Zealand English doesn’t use full stops within or at the end of acronyms, contractions and initialisms.
Mr, Mrs, Dr, Rd and St
Aids, IQ, USA, radar, ANZ, NZ, PO Box
m (for metres), kg, kph and km
$6 m, $4 b
demo and flu (colloquial abbreviations)
N, E, S, W (compass directions)
Abbreviations, on the other hand, in their strict definition of a word formed by removing the end of a word, still have a full stop in the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary, though this is becoming less common in more informal texts. This is a style decision you can make, but ensure it is consistent.
St. for Saint, to avoid confusion with St for Street
No. for the Latin numero to avoid confusion with the word no (though the plural of no. is nos)
The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. use full stops and a space after the numeral, though some style guides accept am and pm, e.g. 4 p.m. or 4 pm
Abbreviations of a single capital letter uses a full stop. G. Lane, Victoria U., but K’ Road.
If an abbreviation does end in a full stop, then normal punctuation follows. (Excuse the cheesy examples!)
The Abbreviation Assoc., Christchurch
But there is no extra full stop if it’s the end of the sentence
A building belonged to the Abbreviation Assoc.
Some acronyms are now treated as nouns and don’t use capitals. Your best bet is to check the New Zealand Oxford Dictionary for usage, as sometimes both options are acceptable.
Aids (also AIDS), radar, Unesco (also UNESCO), ANZAC (for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) but Anzac Day and Anzac biscuits.
Some abbreviations are shown in small caps.
AD 470, 1450 BC
An abbreviated unit of measurement is lowercase.
3 kg, 5 m, 100 kph
Don’t start a sentence with a lowercase abbreviation, such as ca. or cf. An exception is in footnotes.
Units of measurement
Units of measurement are lower-case and don’t use full stops.
km, m, kph, ha
A space between the numeral and the unit of measurement is preferred for style and aesthetic reasons, though newspapers and technical publications often don’t have the space. In this case, pick a style and be consistent, both within the document but also across all your documents.
4 m, 8 ha, 60 kph
Only use the abbreviations with numerals, not the spelled-out number.
6 km, six kilometres
Don’t add a plural s to km or kg.
It was still 10 km to the finish line.
We needed 50 kg of cement
A or an before an abbreviation
Whether you use a or an before an abbreviation depends on the pronunciation, not the spelling.
An NZ town (if you say the letters and don't substitute the full New Zealand)
An MMP voting system
A Nasa rocket
A radar signal
An HD TV
An RSI sufferer
Possessives of abbreviations are formed in the same way they are with words.
A CEO’s position
The MPs’ vote
Avoid writing possessives with the acronym in a bracket; it is better to rearrange the text and spell out at the next use.
✘ The BNZ’s (Bank of New Zealand) logo is blue and yellow.
✔ The logo of the BNZ (Bank of New Zealand) is blue and yellow.
Despite what you often see on signs around town, abbreviations form the plural in the same way as words – by adding an s.
FAQs or faqs
For plurals of abbreviations formed as a single letter, an apostrophe can be clearer.
He got all A’s in his exams
Minding your p’s and q’s
Names and titles
Initials of first names are separated by full stops, but no spaces.
J.K. Rowling, J.S. Bach
An exception is in newspapers and scientific publications, which may leave out the full stops.
JRR Tolkein, George W Bush
Names of people commonly known by their abbreviation don’t take full stops or spaces.
Titles following a name, such as titles of honour, are usually in capitals.
Dame Jane Campion, DNZM
Dame Malvina Major, ONZ, GNZM, DBE
Titles before a name don’t have a full stop
Mr Joe Bloggs
Mrs Jane Smith
Dr S. Brown
Capt James Cook, but Captain Cook (not abbreviated without the fist name)
Letters of achievement don’t have a full stop and are separated by commas.
James Knight, DPd, BA
Sarah White, Bsc
Headings are used for clarity and orientation around a document. Therefore, to avoid confusion or errors incomprehension, avoid the use of abbreviations in headings.
But there are some instances where this is unavoidable, in which case, use the rules below.
Latin abbreviations should not be used in body text and should really only be used in footnotes or where space is at a premium. This also applies to the common ones: e.g., i.e. and etc. – use the full form.
Use a comma before e.g., i.e. and etc. but not after.
Baking, e.g. cakes and biscuits
Baking, i.e. sweet food cooked in an oven
The vet treated the cats, dogs, sheep, etc. and then went home.
Don’t begin a list that ends in etc. with such as, for example and like, as these already indicate that the list is incomplete.
There is no punctuation in place names
Pt Chevallier, but Pleasant Point
UK, NZ, USA, though spelling out is preferred in more formal texts.
When symbols are used, there is no space between the numeral and the symbol
Legal and scientific documents have their own style guide. Check the house style guide or the appropriate style guide.
Bibliographies and references also have their own style guide. Refer to the style guides, e.g. Harvard, APA, Vancouver, etc. for the appropriate styling of references
How can I check?
Dictionaries will include abbreviations, so you can check the capitalisation, punctuation and spacing for individual words.
If you have written a book in New Zealand English and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers of fiction and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your book is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your book shine, please contact me on: www.clearlingo.co.nz/contact.
I would love to hear from you.
Hughes, J., & Wallace, D. (2010). Fit to Print : The Writing & Editing Style Guide for Aotearoa New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.
Oxford University Press, (2016). New Oxford Style Manual (3rd ed.). United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Marja Stack is a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. She is the owner of Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, which caters to all writers of non-fiction books, business publications and cookbooks. For more information or enquiries for how she can help you make your book shine, please see her website:
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