DOD discourages using acronyms

Defense Department memo instructs officials to reduce acronym use

Defense Department Executive Secretary Michael Bruhn is tired of playing the acronym game and wants to limit the use of short-form titles in the department immediately, Federal News Radio reported.

“Many acronyms have multiple meanings and are not always well-known outside a particular organization,” wrote Bruhn in a Nov. 30 memo on

“Although using acronyms in written material is intended to make writing clearer, their misuse or abuse does the exact opposite,” the letter continued.

Related story:

OMB issues preliminary guidance on Plain Language Act

If written correspondence prepared for DOD has acronyms, he said a glossary of terms should be included at the end of the materials.

Particular attention should be given to Read-Aheads and slide presentations, Bruhn wrote.

This latest action parallels the Plain Writing Act of 2010 signed into law by President Barack Obama in October.  It's intended to make it easier for the public to understand documents that are not often written with the layperson in mind. 

The law is designed to promote “clear government communication that the public can understand and use,” according to a Nov. 5 memo sent by the Office of Management and Budget to the heads of executive departments and agencies.

Transparency, public participation and collaboration cannot easily occur without plain language, the guidance said.

Plain writing, the memorandum continued, can reduce costs by:

  • Reducing questions from the public to agency staff members.
  • Improving compliance with regulations. 
  • Reducing resources spent on enforcement.
  • Cutting errors on forms and applications.
  • Reducing time spent addressing errors.

A guidance for implementing the act will be developed by April 2011.

According to, a website agencies can reference to help them develop new guidelines, the public's misunderstanding of documents could lead to pricey litigation in some cases.

The current and most successful effort to spread the use of plain language started in the mid-1990s in several agencies, the website indicates. A group of government employees, the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) began meeting in 1995 to try to spread the use of plain language.

In November, PLAIN members were designated to be the official working group to help agencies develop guidance to meet the new law, said Federal News Radio.

About the Author

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.

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Reader comments

Thu, Dec 16, 2010 MS San Antonio, TX

Often times in some complex or long documents I can't remember what the acronym stood for when spelled out the first time when I see it 20 or 100 pages past the initial definition. If it was spelled out two or three chapters ago, then I've probably forgotten what it stood for. I've been recommending that the first use of an acronym be spelled out in each new chapter of a document. That is one way to make them much more readable to the public and other functional users that don't know a particular dialect.

Tue, Dec 14, 2010 Mr. Bill Davenport, IA

Good morning everyone,
Today I’d like to discuss with you the use of PCP. This stuff is amazing. It will enhance your relations with others, make you see thing more clearly and it can be exciting! PCP has been around for a long time, but I think most of us have forgotten it. You’d be amazed at just what you can accomplish with the use of PCP. So, whadda ya say, can we get together and use some good ol’ PCP?
Good morning everyone,
Today I’d like to discuss with you the use of proper communication procedures or (PCP). This stuff is amazing. It will enhance your relations with others, make you see things more clearly and it can be exciting! PCP has been around for a long time, but I think most of us have forgotten it. You’d be amazed at just what you can accomplish with the use of PCP. So, whadda ya say, can we get together and use some good ol’ PCP?What I'd like to do is bring management's attention to a very big, but seldom recognized problem within our organization. Look at it this way:
In the Human Resources community, we all speak in "CHRA" which is Civilian Human Resources Agency. However, there are different "dialects
within the CHRA community, for example: Nancy Lane and Chad Siedschlaw speak the "ADMIN" dialect of CHRA, Kelli Hoague and her team speak the "PROCESSING" dialect of CHRA and Paula Campione and other branch chiefs speak the "STAFFING" dialect of CHRA. And let’s not forget the classification dialect also. No one knows the others business, but all must work together. If people would learn to spell out what they mean, then use the acronym or abbreviation in parenthesis after it, their communication could be understood by all. Far too often we receive e-mails, or other correspondence that is quite littered with acronyms and abbreviations that some people may not understand. In this ever changing environment of CHRA, we must learn to communicate effectively and remember that, even though we are all in the CHRA community, we really do speak different languages. A few extra key strokes in your initial correspondence can save a lot of key strokes later.

Fri, Dec 10, 2010

The elimination of acronyms would be silly. Acronyms are used to make documents shorter and easier to read. The only reason the use of acronyms causes confusion is because most of us get lazy and fail to follow the simple, well established rule, "The first time an acronym is used in a document, spell it out."

Thu, Dec 9, 2010

I work in ONE company in ONE school in the Marine Corps, and half the time half the people don't know what the other half is talking about. IMHO.

Thu, Dec 9, 2010 Editor

@Mark and other curious readers: Why do we use DOD and not DoD? We follow AP Style for abbreviations and acronyms, so DOD is all caps, no periods.

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