Jargon, Acronyms, & Abbreviations

Users come to the site to accomplish a task. Using plain language in web writing increases user understanding and removes unnecessary cognitive barriers to task completion. Avoid jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations wherever possible.

Plain language supports the sustainability of content as well as improves search engine results based on word searches that do not include acronyms and/or abbreviations.

A recent real-world UMW example happened in August 2014 when the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department changed its name to the Talley Center for Counseling Services. The CAPS acronym was present in the site title, on all pages within that department website, as part of the URL, and across a significant number of pages (over 1200) within the greater UMW website. Additionally, when the URL changed from /caps/ to /counseling/ (a move that will improve search engine rankings and the sustainability of the URL going forward), it broke links on more than 40 pages throughout umw.edu and an unknown number of pages linking into the site from off the umw.edu domain. The site manager(s) for the site were given a list of everywhere the acronym and old full name existed, as well as a list of broken links, so they could reach out to other site managers to get the corrections made. Understanding the implications of early choices can prevent significant workload down the road.

To avoid broken links in the future, we’ve created a whole page on smart URL management.

Additional Resources

  1. Define abbreviations & acronyms on their first occurrence in content (Dennis Boudreau)
  2. Avoid legal, foreign, and technical jargon (PlainLanguage.gov)
  3. Minimize abbreviations (PlainLanguage.gov)