Your People Experts

Using Initialisms and Acronymns

As an HR professional, you are aware that there are many abbreviations used when referring to specific laws and regulations, organizations or processes. While a seasoned HR veteran may be more familiar with these abbreviations, someone who is new to the profession or not at all familiar with HR lingo, may have a confusing time understanding a conversation that can be filled with initialisms and acronyms.

Initialisms and acronyms are often used interchangeably, as both are created by using the initial letters of other words. The main difference is that initialisms are pronounced letter by letter, e.g., Family and Medical Leave Act is pronounced as F-M-L-A and acronyms create a new term that is pronounceable, e.g., Immigration and Customs Enforcement is pronounced as ICE. Both of these abbreviations are very handy if you’re writing a document or speaking, and often refer to a specific organization, regulation or principal.

When first using these abbreviations, whether writing or speaking, it is always best to use the full name of the term and then let your audience know that it’s also known as or referred to as….(initialism or acronym).

Below are some guidelines to remember when using initialism or acronym abbreviations…

  • Each use should be specific. In other words, don’t use the same abbreviation to refer to different terms or phrases. This will only confuse your audience.
  • Know the difference between formal and casual use. Formal abbreviations refer to terms generally used in a business environment or conference, such as Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while Laugh Out Loud (LOL) should be reserved for social platforms or text messages.
  • Use proper writing format. Sentence structure is the same for abbreviations as it is for the full term…so use “a” before consonants and “an” before vowels.
  • Be consistent. Don’t interchange the term with the abbreviation. Once you state what the abbreviation is for a term or phrase, continue to use that through your speech or writing.
  • Know your subject and audience. Depending on whom you are addressing, your abbreviation may have a whole different meaning. BLS may mean Bureau of Labor Statistics to a group of human resource professionals, but may mean Basic Life Support to a group of doctors.

The initialisms and acronyms used in HR are constantly changing and growing. CLICK HERE for a list of the most commonly used abbreviations used in the HR profession.


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EAF provides information about current developments in labor and employment law. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Questions requiring legal advice should be addressed to the attorney of your choice. EAF members may be able to obtain a legal interpretation through our FREE Legal Hotline.