Originally published January 29, 2014
Have you ever visited a website page only to discover the first three paragraphs are filled with abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms that have no meaning for you?
What does MDH mean? Or WFH?
You’re not alone.
Not a day passes when I don’t read online content that includes abbreviations, with no explanation of what they mean.
For some websites, I research to try and figure out what they mean.
On other sites, I leave.
Frustrated that I visited their site. And mentally tagging their site as one I don’t want to visit their site again.
What’s The Problem?
That happens daily on thousands of sites to thousands of people. And it doesn’t need to.
And if you have your own website, that’s a lost reader, customer, or potential customer for you.
Why should I, or you, struggle through content, trying to understand from the context what the abbreviation, acronym, or initialism means?
Hey, how am I supposed to know what that three-letter abbreviation means if you don’t explain it?
Don’t make me think.
Using abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms on your page, with no explanations of what they mean, is a puzzle to your readers.
They don’t understand what the meaning is unless you provide it.
Don’t assume your readers already know what the abbreviation, acronym, or initialism means because you included the explanation on another page on your site.
The reader may have landed on your page from a link on another site, or an entirely different page on your site.
They have no idea you provided the explanation on your website, because they’ve never visited the page with the explanation.
Include Explanations on First Use
My recommendation for using abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms: explain what it means the first time you use it on a page.
You don’t have to include the explanation for additional instances.
Here’s an example:
The Children’s Center is licensed by the State of Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and accredited by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs (NAEYC).
In the past, the
title attribute on the
abbr element was used to provide the abbreviation explanation on desktop browsers.
Readers would hover over the abbreviation with their mouse to expose the explanation as a tooltip.
Well, it’s not usable or accessible to many users.
In fact, Steve Faulkner says in his March 2020 post on the HTML title attribute for The Paciello Group:
If you want to hide content from mobile and tablet users as well as assistive tech users and keyboard only users, use the title attribute.
Why? Faulkner includes a number of reasons to avoid using the title attribute:
- Only available to mouse users
- It’s problematic for low-vision users
- Not available to mobile users
Do your readers a favor, explain what abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms mean on first use on a page.
Let your readers focus on your content, without scratching their head over what that group of four letters means.
Don’t leave your readers puzzling over what an abbreviation or acronym means.
For those readers wondering about the acronyms I used at the beginning of this post, I found them all today in posts and tweets people published.
MDH means Minnesota Department of Health and WFH means Working From Home. Which prompted me to update this post.