Justin Rubner

Posts Tagged ‘acronyms in copywriting’

Why Acronyms are FUBAR, part II

In copywriting on 06/14/2009 at 8:45 pm

When I was in the Air Force, we loved acronyms. We even had acronyms for acronyms. I’m not kidding.

I was an ACWS specialist and had a lot of experience working with AWACS and CTAPS, which was the core system working toward the DOD‘s then new TMS. Oh, did I mention–and I don’t say I’m an expert at much–but I would have considered myself an expert on the CAFMS back in 1998.

So, what did I really do? I programmed live air missions, called sorties, into a collective database…so military pilots knew where to fly and perform their missions. But unless you’re in the C4ISR business, or something equivalent, you likely had no idea.

A few of the squadrons I worked with had dictionaries for the myriad acronyms we had. How much time, tax dollars and mental energy was wasted on this?



Sadly, much of our business culture is as addicted to this nonsense as the military is. Go to the websites of many businesses, especially technology-centric ones, and you’ll be bombarded by capital letters. Which, are often more complicated than the concepts they’re actually representing!

Which brings me to a silly debate I recently had with a technology entrepreneur. FAQ to me always meant “frequently asked questions.” I frequently see FAQ written as FAQs, though. So…if my previous belief is correct…then the “s” is redundant. I tweeted about it. The entrepreneur, Paul Freet, then tweeted that FAQs were, in fact, fine. To him, though, FAQ stood for “frequently asked question.” A singular question, that is.

So, adding an s, based on his belief, is correct. Who, by the way, only has one question on those pages? But that’s moot. We’re both right. And we’re both wrong.

So, the point of the nonsensical debate is that if two educated people can’t even agree on what one of the most famous acronyms in the English language stands for, verbatim, then how are we ever going to have fluidity in the minds of prospects and readers with “BI“? (Which can mean business improvement, brand identity or business intelligence.)

Just say “brand identity” already!

Does this mean you shouldn’t use FAQ? No. It’s one of those acronyms that have become part of our lexicon. Kind of like NASA. We all know what NASA is. But how many of us can actually spit out verbatim what it stands for?

And it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t completely avoid acronyms common in your industry. I would make these rules part of your messaging DNA (that’s another NASA-like acronym.):

  • If the concept is used extensively throughout your copy, or if it is your core offering, then you should probably keep the acronym.
  • If your customers frequently use the acronym, then you should definitely keep it.
  • If you only use the concept once or even a few times, then there is no reason to muddy up your copy with an acronym. Why use an acronym if you don’t repeat it again?
  • A good rule of thumb should be no more than two different acronyms for every page of copy. They really are distracting, as I lay out in my previous post on why acronyms are FUBAR.

Pick and choose wisely. Use acronyms because they’re essential. Don’t use them just because your competitors do. You want to be different from your competitors, not the same! Stand out. For the better.

Readers—hopefully soon-to-be customers—will thank you for it.


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