The handling of abbreviations can be tricky, especially if you have to use different style guides for different types of writing. Some guidelines only permit abbreviations in tables or reference sections. Other guidelines are more lenient, but their requirements can still differ in significant ways. Here are pointers about a few of those differences. I’ll use three stylebooks for examples: Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) and Words into Type.
Abbreviations for Professional Titles
Stylebooks often disagree on when to abbreviate certain professional or political titles.
The CMS requires that certain titles such as Senator be spelled out when only the surname is used and abbreviated before the full name. Example:
Sen. John Doe
The AP Stylebook is fine with using the abbreviated version of Senator before the full name in regular text, but requires that the title be spelled out in a direct quotation:
Sen. John Doe addressed his colleagues.
“Senator John Doe should run for a second term,” stated the analyst.
Words into Type never allows the title to be abbreviated except when used in a table.
Abbreviations for Names of Months
The CMS and Words into Type require that month names to be spelled out in text.
With AP style, month names are only abbreviated when they are accompanied by a specific date. Example:
Sept. 10 was unusually chilly.
Even then, AP style allows only certain month names to be abbreviated (Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec.).
However, all three stylebooks approve of abbreviating month names when they’re in tables. The AP stylebook recommends abbreviations consisting of the first three letters of each month (e.g., Jan., Feb., etc.). The CMS and Words into Type follow that same format except for May, June and July, which remain unabbreviated.
If the space in your table cells is so limited that even May, June and July have be shortened, both CMS and Words into Type offer this abbreviating option for all the months:
January = Ja
February = F
March = Mr
April = Ap
May = My
June = Je
July = Jl
August = Ag
September = S
October = O
November = N
December = D
Time of Day
All three stylebooks have their own preferences:
AP requires that the common abbreviations for morning and afternoon to be lowercased with periods (a.m. and p.m.).
The CMS prefers that you use small capitals and the periods are optional.
Words into Type prefers small caps with periods, but you can get away with lowercase letters or normally capitalized letters, just as long as you include the periods.
These are just a few of the style differences you encounter when writing abbreviations, so it’s always a good idea to check the relevant stylebook for proper usage guidelines. Abbreviations are generally avoided in very formal writing, and even when writing informally, use them judiciously so your copy doesn’t look like alphabet soup.