This is me trying to convince you to use acronyms less — or at least be more considerate when you do use them. Let me explain!

And yes, before someone calls me out on it, I am lumping initialisms in with acronyms.

Scattered pink letters

The Frustration

We use a lot of acronyms. People in just about any industry could say that, but it’s especially true for those of us working in tech. And sure, acronyms are convenient when everyone knows them, but it’s easy to overestimate how often that’s the case.

I’ve been “the new guy” at a company enough times to know how frustrating it is when you’re trying to get up to speed, but everyone is speaking in archaic acronym lingo that obfuscates what they’re talking about.

It’s not just industry standard acronyms — at least you can google these. Acronyms for company-specific or internal-only things are more difficult. I’ve even seen people use acronyms that turned out to be someone’s initials. How could I have possibly known that? I don’t even know that person!

It’s frustrating. It feels like gatekeeping.

What to Do?

Obviously you can spell things out instead of using acronyms. That certainly works, but can sometimes be unwieldy.

Another option is to spell out an acronym the first time you use it. This works great for self-contained communication (like emails or docs). For example:

We’ll be enabling SQM (subscriptions queue manager) on March 2. If you have NOT migrated your apps to SQM yet, please reach out to…

Something else that can really help is providing an easily accessible “cheat sheet” of acronyms and their definitions. It’s not the perfect solution, since you’re still making people look things up, but it can be incredibly useful when unfamiliar acronyms are inevitably used.

Know Your Audience

I’m not asking for the complete eradication of all acronyms. They have their place. But thinking about who you’re talking to and using acronyms accordingly can be a massive help.

For example, when I’m talking to other web developers, I will absolutely use “CSS”. It would be kind of weird to say “cascading style sheets” every time.

On the other hand, when I’m talking to non-developers, I usually won’t even mention CSS. My team at work has settled on the term “custom styling” instead, which is great — it conveys what is actually being done while sidestepping a tech acronym entirely.

Bonus: Ridiculous Acronym

I’ll close this out with my favorite ridiculous acronym, just because of the sheer density of it: XHR. It’s actually an acronym of acronyms that fully expands to “extensible markup language hypertext transfer protocol request”. That’s 56 letters from 3. Not bad!