Twelve Tips for Terrific Texts: Tip #8 – Acronyms (Writing stage)

Time for the eighth tip in my scicomm series: “acronyms.”

Even though we try to keep jargon and acronyms to a minimum, sometimes you use a term often enough to justify using the acronym for it. There are also acronyms that are commonly known, like “FAQ.” But how do we use these in a sentence? Saying “a FAQ page” sounds awkward, and you wouldn’t say “an frequently asked question.” So which is it – “a” or “an”?

It all comes down to how the start of the acronym is pronounced. When the beginning of the acronym has a vowel SOUND, like the “eh” sound at the beginning of the letter F, you use “an.” So “an FAQ page” would be correct. Of course, some acronyms are pronounced as a word on their own, like “laser,” which originally stood for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Since laser is pronounced as a full word and doesn’t have a vowel sound at the start, you would say “a laser,” but if we were to have an acronym starting with L where we pronounce the letter, we would use “an,” like “an LED bulb.”

Here is a list of letters that should be paired with “an”: A, E, F, H, I, L, M, N, O, R, S, X. (Try saying “a” in front of each letter to see if it sounds natural or not!)

It’s tricky, but with practice you can get the hang of it!

Stay tuned for the next 4 tips!

Communicating your science: writing: acronyms. An FAQ page or a FAQ page? Vowel sounds at the start of acronyms (e.g. ehF-A-Q) pair with an (and  vice versa).

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