ES reader Bill Wehmeier responds to my recent Editor's Note about how and when to use acronyms:

Robert,

I enjoy your column in the ES Engineered Systems magazine. Regarding your recent column on acronyms, the solution is very simple:

The first time an acronym is used in a printed article, it should have the definition spelled out. That way everyone knows immediately exactly what the acronym is representing and its use throughout the article is understood. Example:  television (TV).

Having your readers page back to a glossary or worse yet, going online just to determine what an acronym is referring to is not “user friendly (UF)” to say the least.This is especially important in today’s world with more and more acronyms being generated by everyone and the same acronyms having multiple meanings.(If I say the acronym DOE, does that mean Design of Experiment or Department of Energy to you?  In our company both are referred to.)

Using this rule makes for easier reading and would make your magazine more UF.

Thank you, Bill, for taking the time to e-mail about this. The first-usage guideline you suggest actually is what we do when we run into a term that isn't common enough to be in the glossary but occurs frequently in a given article.

This first-use rule of thumb, and the associated editing time for every instance, is still a little cumbersome for terms that are extremely common (like VAV or AHU, for instance). So the trick, then, is deciding what is truly common enough to abbreviate from the start, and what isn't. It's possible that perhaps we should pull some terms back out of the glossary and treat them as less familiar to readers. At the least, I agree that only having the glossary online is probably too inconvenient as a long-term solution. We'll work on that.

Thanks again for weighing in on this, Bill, and for reading. Other readers are always encouraged to continue this discussion on how to make the magazine as time-efficient for you amid so many technical terms while always staying, uh, as UF as possible.