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Re: Acronyms and abbreviations


From: Terence de Giere
Date: Mar 31, 2002 9:42AM

Hypertext markup philosophy takes as a rule the user may enter a Web
page from anywhere and not have any surrounding context for interpreting
the content. A user may enter a single paragraph somewhere on a page via
a link to an anchor. The content needs to be organized in
self-sufficient chunks that can, hopefully, be understood if the user
does not have immediate access to entire document. A user with assistive
technology initially may not know how long the page is or just where
they are in the page.

For this reason using ACRONYM and ABBR whenever there is an acronym of
abbreviation is a good practice, although it might be a bit tedious for
an AT user to have, say, NASA fleshed out to "National Aeronautics and
Space Administration" every time it appears. On the first appearance of
a name on a page I generally write out the full name, for example,
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), put the acronym in
parentheses and tag the acronym but do not use the title attribute of
the ACRONYM element. If the term appears again, I just use the acronym
tagged with ACRONYM and fill in the title attribute with the full name.
This provides the minimum explanation for users whose browsers do not
support these HTML elements, and provides the meaning everywhere on the
page for users who can interpret these elements.

Acronyms and abbreviations, if there are a lot of them, may also make
the page more difficult to scan for visual users because reading all
large capital letters is less efficient, and having these terms tagged
allows the possibility of using CSS to format them in small caps to make
the visual flow of the text more even and perhaps more pleasing to scan.

Goverment and technical sites that use plenty of acronyms and
abbreviations should not assume the public knows what these terms mean.
It is possible that the same abbreviation can have multiple meanings.
For example ATM can mean Automated Teller Machine, Asynchronous Transfer
Mode, and Adobe Type Manager, and it is possible a page related to
computer technology could contain all three possibilities and there
needs to be a way to distinguish them.

My thanks to those who helped to clarify the distinction between and
usage of ACRONYM and ABBR.

Terence de Giere

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