Answered By: Theresa Bell (she/her/hers)
Last Updated: Nov 19, 2021     Views: 4247

APA Style (7th ed.)

Please see pages 172-177 in the APA Style manual for the full explanation of how to use abbreviations, including details on scientific abbreviations, pluralizing abbreviations, and abbreviations beginning a sentence. For an abridged version of that information, see Abbreviations, which is a resource by the APA.

When to use abbreviations

The APA’s advice on using abbreviations is that "although abbreviations can be useful for long, technical terms in scholarly writing, communication is often garbled rather than clarified if an abbreviation is unfamiliar to readers" (APA, 2020, p. 172).  Abbreviations should be used because they make understanding the text easier for the reader, versus to save the author from having to type out the full text every time:

In general, if you abbreviate a term, use the abbreviation at least three times in a paper. If you use the abbreviation only one or two times, readers may have difficulty remembering what it means, so writing the term out each time aids comprehension. However, a standard abbreviation for a long, familiar term is clearer and more concise even if it is used fewer than three time. (APA, 2020, p. 172)

When you're deciding whether or not to use an abbreviation,

use an abbreviation only if (a) if it is conventional and readers are likely to be more familiar with the abbreviation than with the complete form and (b) considerable space can be saved and cumbersome repetition avoided. . .. Although there is no absolute limit for the use of abbreviations, writing is generally easier to understand when most words are written out rather than when overflowing with abbreviations (APA, 2020, p. 172)

The decision of when to use abbreviations and acronyms in academic writing can more complicated because readers of the work may not be as familiar as the author with the topic and its associated abbreviations. When readers are unfamiliar with acronyms, they will need to return repeatedly to the initial explanation of the abbreviation, which can be frustrating. Also, abbreviations can make comprehending text significantly more difficult for dyslexic readers (Enigk, 2012, para. 6). Finally, when text relies heavily on acronyms, the flow of the text can be affected as all caps text is more difficult to read (Strizver, n.d., para. 1). For example, the next two sentences could be difficult to understand without a familiarity of the acronyms commonly used at Royal Roads University: RRU’s SoB, which is in the FoM, offers the following programs: BBA, BCOM, MBA, and MGM. The capstone project for MGM students is the GMP, whereas MBA students complete OMPs.

Abbreviating group authors in citations

Similarly, regarding whether to use abbreviations for group authors within citations, "you are not obligated to abbreviate the name of a group author, but you can if the abbreviation is well-known, will help avoid cumbersome repetition, or will appear at least three times in the paper" (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 268). Assessing what abbreviations are conventional or familiar can be tricky as some abbreviations have different meanings; for example, AMA could refer to the American Medical Association, the Alberta Medical Association, or the Alberta Motor Association. Similarly, CIA could refer to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Culinary Institute of America, or the Cleveland Institute of Art. If you're not sure that your audience will understand the abbreviation as you're using it, spelling out the name every time will help the reader more easily understand the information. For more information on using abbreviations in in-text citations, please see Group Author Abbreviations by the American Psychological Association.

For information on using abbreviations to cite a group author, please see How do I cite a group author in-text in APA style?.


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).

Enigk, E. (2012, November 8). Writing for dyslexic readers. Quick and Dirty Tips.

Strizver, I. (n.d.). All caps: To set or not to set? Retrieved from