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Video Transcripts

APA Formatting & Style: Acronyms (Abbreviations)

Last updated 4/21/2016


Visual: Walden logo at bottom of screen along with notepad and pencil background. Video changes to new slide titled, “Acronyms,” with rules listed.

Introduce once within parenthesis

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • English language learners (ELLs)

Combine abbreviations and a citation

  • The Department of Education (DOE; 2012)
  • (The Department of Education [DOE], 2012)
  • (DOE, 2012)

Audio: Acronyms and abbreviations—I want to say that depending on what style you’re writing in, you might see more acronyms and you might see less. When you’re writing APA style, because the goal is for clarity, you should always err on the side of spelling everything out. So what I mean to say is, you want to make sure you’re not abbreviating absolutely everything because then, for your reader, it’s just like reading alphabet soup, kind of. You want to make sure that when you are abbreviating, it is not at the expense of clarity and that your reader will be familiar enough with your abbreviations so they can still understand what you’re saying without having to flip back and forth and look at the glossary or look at the first few pages. You’re not required to introduce an abbreviation if one exists, so if you know a term has an abbreviation but you’re only going to use it once or twice and you don’t think your reader will have time to get familiar with it, you should just spell everything out the first time.

If you do decide that you want to introduce an abbreviation or acronym, you will do so the first time you mention the term—so you’ll spell out the whole thing the first time it appears in the text, and then you introduce the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses right next to it. So you see the examples we have here…

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parentheses, CDC.

Or English language learners, parentheses, ELLs, with a lower-case s because it’s plural.

So after that, you would just use the abbreviation or acronym throughout the text. You don’t need to switch back and forth or keep spelling out the term. One thing, if you need to introduce an abbreviation at the same time you need to make a citation, what you do is, according to this example, if you’re mentioning the name of the authoring organization directly in the text, and you were going to need to introduce the abbreviation right next to it, you can put everything in the same parentheses and just separate it with a semicolon. So, for the Department of Education, if I want to introduce the abbreviation alongside the citation, I would just say: parentheses, DOE, semicolon, 2012. If I’m not talking about the authoring organization directly in the text and I just have it in the citation and it’s the first time I’m mentioning it, you would still put everything in the same parentheses, but you would just introduce the acronym in brackets because you’re already inside parentheses. Spell everything out, brackets, acronym or abbreviation, end brackets, comma, and publication date. And then every time you mention this source after that, because you have introduced an abbreviation, you can just cite it as DOE, comma, 2012.


Visual: Video transitions to new slide still titled, “Acronyms,” with three in-text examples of what not to do when referring to an acronym or abbreviation. Lines are drawn from each example with a note about why each is wrong (listed in a).

  1. The ELLs (English Language Learners) in my class give a different perspective.
    1. Abbreviation should be in parenthesis
  2. Often ELL students have different experiences they can expose other students to.
    1. Repetition of learner and students.
  3. English language learners are thus a valuable addition to classes. 
    1. No needs to spell out phrase.

Audio: The other thing to remember about acronyms is that you spell everything out in the main text first and put the acronym in parentheses. Sometimes, you will see the reverse. So you’ll see in this example—the ELLs, parenthesis, English language learners, parenthesis—that might be appropriate in some scholarly writing styles, but in APA style, it would be the reverse, so you would see: English language learners, parenthesis, ELLs, parenthesis.


Visual: A text box is pulled onto the screen with the correct formatting for #1. It reads: “The English language learners (ELLs) in my class give a different perspective.”

Audio: The other thing that can sometimes happen if you’re used to using the acronym—you’ll kind of forget the words that are included in the acronym, and so you’ll repeat words that you don’t need to repeat. For example, English language learners already includes the people you’re talking about, so you don’t need to repeat learner and student, but if you keep saying ELL over and over again, you might forget that the students are actually already included in the acronym. So if you were going to correct that, you would just say, “Often ELLs have different experiences they can expose other students to.” If you imagine you were saying the whole thing instead of just the acronym, you can say, “Often English language learner students…”—that sounds redundant—you can say, “English language learners have different experiences.” So make sure you don’t repeat extra words that are already included in the acronym.


Visual: A text box is pulled onto the screen with the correct formatting for #2. It reads: “Often ELLS have different experiences they can expose other students to.”

Audio: The other thing to keep track of is to make sure that you don’t spell out terms that you have already introduced abbreviations or acronyms for. And what I tell people is, if you find yourself needing to spell it out more than once, if you think the reader won’t remember, I need to spell it out, you should just spell it out the whole time, and you don’t need to introduce the acronym. So in this case, if I’ve introduced the abbreviation and I know it’s something that the reader will get used to or already be familiar with instead of spelling it out, I would just abbreviate it the whole time.


Visual: A text box is pulled onto the screen with the correct formatting for #3. It reads: “ELLs are thus a valuable addition to class.”


Slide changes back to notebook and pencil with Walden logo from intro screen. Text reads “Walden University Writing Center. Questions? E-mail”