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I’m Very Concerned About the EOOUA

“What is the EOOUA?”, you ask.

My response: “You mean you can’t FOWTSF1?”

OK ok ok. So what is EOOUA? That’s an excellent question. Really.

I also hate the Excessive Overuse of Unnecessary Acronyms (EOOUA).

For example, at work the other day I received a two sentence email, where one sentence read:

“AGZ is embarking on another TLM “pilot” with WTG.”

I’ve slightly changed the acronyms so that I don’t disclose any corporate secrets, but that probably wasn’t even necessary, as the sentence was completely meaningless to me (and probably many other recipients). And the first sentence in the email did nothing to clue the reader in as to what it was that its author was talking about or why I was being copied on it. So, what did I do? I ignored it! Maybe not the best decision, but when you get several of these a week, you simply don’t have the time to chase down the meaning of every new acronym that finds its way to your inbox (and 30+ people were copied on this email; by instinct I knew it wasn’t directly related to me or my work – which played a large role in why I ignored it).

Like in my web design work, this is really a “usability” issue. If something doesn’t communicate effectively, people pass it over, get frustrated, move on.

I can’t figure out why people insist on creating a constant stream of new acronyms. Maybe it’s something to do with making the insiders feel elitist, and “in the know”. I think I run into two new ones a week at work. And sure, they save time for the author of the communication being sent, they use less computer memory and disk space (though that’s negligible), and if printed out they’ll use less ink than writing the entire phrase. But at what cost?

The excessive overuse of unnecessary acronyms impedes communication. For those (often few) who are “in the know”, they may serve a time saving purpose, but this completely ignores that fact that in most any organization or occupation, there is a constant influx of newcomers. All these acronyms slow down communication for these newcomers. And in situations like mine, where I’m not even a newcomer but am still bombarded with a constant stream of new acronyms anyway, they continually serve to impede communication and waste a lot of time.

I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve replied to, simply to ask the sender, “can you explain to me what you’re talking about?”  This is time wasted, not time saved. Next, there are times when I just don’t have the time to hunt down explanations for acronyms (as in the above case), so I just pass over them. And I’m sure other people do the same.  What results is the missing of potentially important information. This is certainly not in the interest of the person who is trying to communicate.

At my company, I would be very interested to know the time wasted, and thus money spent, simply on people trying to clear up vague messages or even miscommunications simply due to the overuse of acronyms. I bet it’d be substantial.

My recommendations. If you want to use acronyms, try to stick to ones that are nearly universally understood, like USA, or LOL, or these days even WMDs. If you feel you must use a new acronym (and please do this sparingly) make sure that in every single communication using this acronym you write out the complete phrase on its First Use (or FU, no pun intended). You can then use the acronym a couple times without writing the complete phrase. But if you’ve gone more than a couple paragraphs, you’d better write out the complete phrase again, lest you will lose your reader, who does not want to be scrolling up and down or flipping pages back and forth in a constant struggle to remember what you’re talking about.

Oh, and as an aside. (While I’m ranting.) Another annoying overuse — the word “leverage”. Its like you won’t be taken seriously in the corporate world unless this word is used as often as possible, usually at least once per communication. People have completely abandoned the word “use”. No one uses anything in the corporate world, they “leverage” things.

Or maybe I’m all wrong and just need to start leveraging the EOOUA too. Perhaps there’s even a raise in there somewhere.

1 FOWTSF – Figure Out What This Stands For