Abbreviations and Acronyms: To Use or Not?

A couple of days ago, I spent a frustrating couple of hours reading a FIDIC report.

Why was it frustrating?

It was not because the report was particularly difficult to understand. It was because it was littered with so many abbreviations and acronyms.

I have a lot of experience reading contract documents, but even for me, it was difficult to make sense of.

Sure, FIDIC placed footnotes in the document to explain what the abbreviations stood for. But, the fact that I had to keep checking these disrupted the ‘flow’ of reading and again, made it harder to understand.

Why Not to Use Abbreviations or Acronyms

Studies show that using abbreviations and acronyms can actually alienate the reader. And, rather than understand the abbreviation itself, most people take the word at face value. For example, if you see ‘NOD’, you will read what it says, i.e. ‘NOD’. Your brain then has to search its memory bank to convert NOD to its true meaning of ‘Notice of Dissatisfaction’.

Do you see how this interrupts the flow of reading and by consequence, understanding? Especially if we’re reading a complex document with many abbreviations.

Any Plus Points?

The only possible plus point to using abbreviations and acronyms is that it saves typing time. And possibly some paper. Is this small saving worth it, particularly in a claim situation?

Two of the key points of a successful claim are:

Make the reviewer’s job as easy and as pleasant as possible. Make the particulars of the claim easy to understand. This will make the reader’s task much easier.

Assume that the reviewer has no prior knowledge of the project. Don’t assume the reader knows what you know. Be clear, be specific and help them to understand the project and situation.

If you are asked to respond to a claim, but don’t understand the particulars, you won’t be confident to issue an award. Your claim will either take more time to resolve or be rejected.

So, my advice here is plain and simple: do not use abbreviations in claims, correspondence, reports and any other formal documents. Ever.

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