July 9th, 2014

Hazel Butters

Tech PR viewpoint: IT TLAs & Abbrs. FWIW

Tech PR viewpoint: IT TLAs & Abbrs. FWIW

Hazel’s Tech PR viewpoint:

One of the toughest but most important skills in communicating the benefits of new and innovative technology is the ability to explain complex concepts in a manner that is easy to understand. From my perspective of tech PR, this means using plain English, being honest about what you do, describing big ideas clearly – and not going overboard with acronyms and abbreviations.

Acronyms and abbreviations are undoubtedly useful when used intelligently and in the right place. However when used without thought for an audience, they can quickly confound and irritate. This is particularly true in the world of IT (Information Technology – see?), an industry rife with shorthand, but which really is cryptic enough without adding word puzzles into the mix.

Using language shortcuts is perfectly acceptable – indeed encouraged – as long as it is done with care. After all, who really wants to type or read phrases like Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service or Time-Division Multiplexing umpteen times in a white paper when acronyms like RADIUS and TDM do such a good job? There are many guidelines and recommendations on this topic commonly adhered to by copywriters and technical authors, and some of which evolve organically over time – but here are a few quick and dirty rules I would advise for helping readers stay focused and to prevent live audiences becoming baffled by geek speak:

• Whatever copy you are creating, whether it is a snappy blog post or a lengthy corporate PowerPoint presentation, always expand acronyms and abbreviations the first time that you use them and again, periodically, in particularly lengthy documents. That way your plans to build a MAN (metropolitan area network) will rarely be misunderstood for cyborg megalomania

• Consider replacing outmoded or lesser used acronyms with plain English wherever appropriate, even if it isn’t perfectly synonymous. Most people will actually be happier for you to say ‘text’ or ‘in the datacenter’ rather than to repeatedly explain SMS (short message service) or CPE (customer premises equipment), for example

• Understand your audience and talk at their level at all times. If you are one of many presenters at a conference for e-commerce technical support teams, then feel free to bandy around TLAs (Three-Letter Abbreviations) like CRM, BPM to your heart’s content. But if you are trying to sell CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or BPM (Business Process Management) software to small businesses looking to modernize sales, then you can safely spell it all out for them without seeming patronizing

• If in doubt, spell it out. Someone shared a story of a keynote from a peripheral manufacturer and the speaker’s brilliant turn of praise for poor connectivity, when actually he had been repeatedly referencing legacy SCSI (small computer system interface) connections, not old ‘scuzzy’ ones

• Never, ever use acronyms or abbreviations to cover up for gaps in your own knowledge, to make yourself appear somehow smarter, or to blind your audience with science in the hope that you won’t be asked to explain yourself. People won’t like you for it, and one day you may be exposed and embarrassed for not actually knowing your BSS (Basic Service Set) from your BS…

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Hazel Butters: Opinion, Technology Copywriting, Technology PR Blog | 1 Comment »

One Response to “Tech PR viewpoint: IT TLAs & Abbrs. FWIW”

  1. Dave says:

    Nice to see that this blog post is now in the Top 5 Google search returns for ‘cyborg megalomania’…