Sunday, February 22, 2009

when using Acronyms...

This was something brought up in one of our recent meetings... where we saw a number of fanciful acronyms laid on our table...

Thanks to Glenn, who quickly searched and shared the following article (which is a blog post) with us: Annoying, convoluted, random, oblique names you make (ACRONYM)—some rules on using acronyms

Haha... So, what's what ACRONYM stands for? Itself is an acronym of "Annoying, Convoluated, Random, Oblique Names"? What an irony!

Why acronym? Well, think it's one of the memory techniques, for people to remember long chunks of words... the WORD itself does not necessary have anything to do with the context. Of course, sometimes, the letters make a sensible word (er... a word that we can find in the dictionary) (e.g. SEED); nevertheless, there are also lots of such words don't come with any meaning on its own (e.g. SEL).

See? 2 examples just quoted are offsprings from programmes by the MOE (Singapore) in the recent years.

In fact, when using short forms or acronyms, we have to be aware of the context and background (er.... more of the professional background) of the people we speak to. Still remember the very first time encounter an misunderstanding of the term is "CPA".

Practically, all who teach in mainstream secondary schools know that "CPA" refers to "Computer Applications". Howevever, if we talk to someone who's Accounting trained. it means "Certified Public Accountant"... of course, these are the 2 contexts (education, accounting) that I'm aware of... there could be more!

Acronym is one of the culprits for misinterpretations, sometimes! Very often, we take for granted that people interprets the acronym as we do! Be mindful that even when we use the term in the same discipline/field, different organisations might have tagged different meanings to it... A quick one:

"IP" stands for?

  • Intellectual property
  • Integrated programme
  • Instructional programme

This is used in the same place - education!

Could misinterpretation (hence leading to misunderstanding, sometimes) be avoided? Certainly!

Define the acronym before using it

  • This is especially important when talking to people who are not familiar to the context that we use the word.
  • Some acronyms are used only in the Singapore school context. Examples include NE, SEM, I&E. So, teachers in Singapore schools know what they are and therefore able to make meaning when one uses such terms in the conversation or presentation. However, for someone who has lost touch with the word or in institutions of higher learning (IHLs), they would not be able to make the head or tail out of what one is trying to say.
  • One practice, I observe, especially in most paper writing, the writers would always define the word the first time it's mentioned (e.g. School Excellence Model (SEM)) before the acronym is subsequently used throughout the write-up.
  • Another observation is, during conversation, always bother to give a short description of the acronym before it is used subsequently, to set the context for the word. It is always good to be proactive - address to the potential misinterpretation, rather than correcting the mistake.

All in all, while acronym helps us to keep things short and sweet, and hopefully leaves an impression in people the programme it stands for, we have to fully aware of its potential "damage" when it's not well defined. Well, Singapore is well-known for acronym... to zoom in further... schools are also culprits for populating the education landscape with so many acronyms... so, the next time we come up with an acronym... let's think... how it differentiates itself from others and would come up as the one that people will remember for long (because it's meaningful and/or it's impactful!)... otherwise, we will ended up as of the "acronym litterbugs"...

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