05.01.4 – Abbreviations in Legal Writing

Why do we need a list of abbreviations and acronyms?

In any field of knowledge and in any industry, the main benefits of acronyms and abbreviations are speed and saving word space. Indeed, it’s much quicker to write ‘LOL’ rather than ‘Lots of love’. Likewise, it’s much quicker to write ‘PTW’ rather than ‘Part-Time Worker’ and this saves word space too.

However, where there is no common reference for acronyms and abbreviations, this can easily lead to misunderstanding, confusion, mistakes, and leave some people feeling excluded from the communication clarity they rightly deserve.

We believe that in the legal field where justice should matter, the use of abbreviations and acronyms must be precise and inclusive.

The difference between an abbreviation and an acronym

In simple terms, an abbreviation is ‘any’ shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase.

Did you catch the word any in there?

This means abbreviation is the blanket term for all shortened words we enjoy using on social media. Such as ‘Rly’ where we’ve taken some vowels out, or who needs ‘em’ where we’ve dropped the consonants.

An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation formed from the first letters of a multi-word term, name, or phrase, and those letters may be pronounced together as one term. For example ‘TUPE’ — which is the acronym for ‘Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)’ and is pronounced either ‘toopee’ or ‘chewpee’.

Our simple recommendation is to always try to write in plain English.

In a short document avoid unfamiliar abbreviations or acronyms, defining any that you use in a footnote or within the text the first time that you use it.

In a longer document or in a bundle of documents, define abbreviations and acronyms in a ‘List of Abbreviations and Acronyms’, and ensure that list is easily referenced from a Table Of Content, either located in a document’s preliminary pages or in an Appendix.

You need not define an abbreviation or acronym that is part of everyday usage (‘e.g.’, ‘etc’ or ‘BBC’). Lawyers and judges can be expected to know them.

Scroll to Top