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Other APA Guidelines: Abbreviations

Basics of Abbreviations

Using abbreviations can be an effective way to avoid repeating lengthy, technical terms throughout a piece of writing, but they should be used sparingly to prevent your text from becoming difficult to read.

Many abbreviations take the form of acronyms, which are abbreviations consisting of the first letter of each word in a phrase. Examples are National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and Better Business Bureau (BBB). Note that the acronym uses all capital letters, and there are no periods between the letters.

To use an abbreviation, write out the term or phrase on first use, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. See these examples:

The patient had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in March of the previous year.

Walden students need to know how to cite information using the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines.

Using an Abbreviation in a Draft

After introducing the abbreviation, use the abbreviation by itself, without parentheses, throughout the rest of the document.

The patient had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in March of 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2015),  people with TBI often have difficulty with memory and concentration, physical symptoms such as headaches, emotional symptoms such as sadness and irritability, and difficulty falling asleep. Although the patient explained that she experienced frequent headaches and difficulty concentrating, she had not been regularly taking any medication for her TBI symptoms when she visited the clinic 6 months after her diagnosis.

Note: When introducing an abbreviation within an in-text citation, use a comma (,) between the abbreviation and the year.

Making an Abbreviation Plural

Simply add an “s” to an abbreviation to make it plural. (Do not add an apostrophe.)

I work with five other RNs during a typical shift.

Note: RN is a commonly used acronym found in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, so it does not need to be introduced. See the “Exceptions to the Rules” section below for more information about commonly used abbreviations.

Exceptions to the Rules

There are a few exceptions to the basic rules:

  • If you use the phrase three times or fewer, it should be written out every time.
  • Commonly used acronyms and abbreviations may not need to be written out. If an abbreviation appears as a word in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, then it does not need to be written it out on first use. Examples include words such as IQ, REM, and HIV.
  • Other than abbreviations prescribed by APA in reference list elements (e.g., “ed.” for “edition,” “n.d.” for “no date,” etc.), do not use abbreviations in the references list. For example, a source authored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would not be abbreviated as CDC in the references list.
  • If using an abbreviation for a unit of measure with a numerical value, you do not need to write the term out on first use. For example, instead of writing “12 grams;” you can simply use “12 g.” If, however, you use a unit of measure without a numerical value, write the term out (e.g., “several grams”).

Acronyms (Abbreviations) Video

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Knowledge Check: Abbreviations