Acronyms and abbreviations

Acronyms and abbreviations are part of our everyday lives (especially on Queen's campus!). However, to the uninitiated, some acronyms and abbreviations are complete mysteries until they are clearly defined. Since we can never be sure who the end reader of our web documents is, defining acronyms and abbreviations clearly is a prerequisite for maximum comprehension.


All acronyms and abbreviations must be clearly defined on each web document they are used on.

Accessibility Recommendations

In general, screen readers do not recognize abbreviations and acronyms, and generally read them as if they were typical English words. For instance the acronym "ITS" would not be read by screen readers as the intended "I.T.S.", but as "It's". To assist with accessibility we suggest:

  1. Using periods between letters (e.g. I.T.S. versus ITS) in an acronym may help screen readers parse the acronym.

  2. When writing an acronym in an ALT tag, add spaces between characters (e.g. <alt="I T S" >).

Other Guidelines

Never assume that the end reader knows what the acronym or abbreviation stands for. Even common terms (like "M.B.A." for instance) should be clearly defined when first introduced (see example below). Also consider that an acronym or abbreviation in one sphere may not mean the same in another (eg. "C.A.S." has been used for both the Children's Aid Society and the Canadian AIDS Society).

When the term is used within a collection of web pages, it must be fully defined on each page in the collection, as users potentially will not start at "page 1" (due to search-engine results, deep linking , etc.).

While there are programmatic techniques that can encode expanded definitions of acronyms and abbreviations, each initial introduction of an acronym or abbreviation must first be written in full in the page content, followed by its shortened form in brackets. Subsequent use of the acronym or abbreviation on that page need not be defined. For example:

"Canadians looking to propel their careers into the international business arena can now earn an Ivy League Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) in 17 months while they continue to work in Canada with the new Queen's-Cornell International Executive M.B.A."