One area where technical writers often sacrifice clarity for the sake of conciseness involves acronyms and initialisms. Both are different flavors of abbreviations formed by combing the first letter or letters of multiple words. For example, writers (and speakers for that matter) will often use RAM instead of read-access memory, laser instead of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, p.m. instead of its Latin equivalent post meridiem, and COD instead of cash on delivery. The difference is in the pronunciation; we pronounce acronyms as single words (for example, RAM and laser) whereas we pronounce initialisms by individual letter (for example, p.m. and COD).
Some technical writers generously use acronyms and initialisms, thinking that such use makes their writing either more formal or more concise. Both ideas are delusional. Using too many abbreviations forces the audience to work harder to understand the intended message. The practice can also produce a sense of pompous display. Both of these effects contribute to less effective technical writing. And more effective writers never sacrifice clarity for conciseness.
More effective technical writers always consider their audience. Since technical writers do not always know who may be reading their writing, a good guideline is to use the full multiple-word expression when referencing it for the first time followed by the abbreviation in parentheses.
Typically, when writing for a group whose members all understand the conventions of the group, a more effective technical writer could omit the complete spelling upon the first reference and simply use the abbreviation. For example, technical writers writing specifically for a group of welders may not need to write gas-tungsten arc welding upon a first reference of that process. They could simply write GTAW, since every welder knows what GTAW is. However, someone outside the group may not be familiar with the conventions of the group; in that case, a complete spelling upon the first reference will be appreciated. In any event, more effective technical writers consider their audience.
A notable exception to the use of abbreviations is when everyone understands the convention. For example, we all use p.m. rather than post meridiem. In that event, more effective technical writers need not use a complete spelling with the first reference.
Generally, acronyms appear in uppercase letters without periods (as in the case of RAM) unless the abbreviation is part of popular use, in which event the acronym appears in lowercase letters without periods (as in the case of laser). Initialisms can appear in uppercase letters (as in the case of COD) or lowercase letters (as in the case of p.m.) and with or without periods. For instance, p.m. has traditionally appeared with periods, but this convention is evolving with changes in the English language itself. The use of pm instead of p.m. is finding more acceptance.
When it comes to acronyms and initialisms, don’t DIY (do it yourself). Following good guidelines as explained in this post can help you produce more effective technical writing. And more effective technical writing will represent you and your brands more effectively to your audience.