The term abbrevation is the name for a word made from the first letters of each word in a series of words. Some distinguish a abbreviation (such as NATO), which is pronounced as a word, from an initialism (such as FBI), which is pronounced by saying each letter separately. Most people, however, ignore such distinctions.
To help guide authors in their use of term paper abbreviation, I’ve compiled some basic rules about when and how to use term paper abbreviation in a scientific publication.
1. Don’t use term paper abbreviation in the title unless (a) the subject is almost exclusively known by its acronym or is widely known and used in that form, and (b) the abbreviation does not commonly have more than one expansion. An example of a common abbreviation that should not be used in the title is CD, since though it is widely used for “critical dimension” it can also be used for “compact disk,” “circular dichroism,” and possibly other expansions. Abbreviation should not be spelled out in the title—if you are going to spell it out, just leave the abbreviation off!
2. Standard abbreviations for measurement units and chemical names that are widely known can be used in the title, abstract, and body of the paper and do not need to be spelled out.
3. Always spell out the term paper abbreviation the first time it is used in the body of the paper.
4. Avoid abbreviation in the abstract unless the abbreviation is commonly understood and used multiple times in the abstract. If an abbreviation is used in the abstract, it must be spelled out (defined) in the abstract, and then spelled out again the first time it is used in the body of the paper.
5. Once an abbreviation has been defined in the body of the paper, don’t repeat the definition again. Exception: if an abbreviation is used and spelled out in a figure caption, it should also be defined the first time it is used in the body of the paper. Spelling out an abbreviation the first time it is used in a figure is useful for those readers who wish to scan the figures before deciding whether to read the full paper. In general, though, figures and their captions are better off without abbreviation unless they are commonly understood.
6. Abbreviaion can be multilayered, but the need for common familiarity is even greater (for example, VHDL ¼ VHSIC hardware description language, where VHSIC stands for very-high-speed integrated circuit).
7. Some abbreviations are so commonly used that have become their own words (e.g., laser and sonar), and are listed in common dictionaries as words rather than abbreviations. These terms do not need to be spelled out.