Acronyms and Abbreviations in APA

Posted December 7, 2017

Although abbreviations save space in your dissertation, they can sacrifice clarity. Be careful to be as clear as possible when using abbreviations. Per APA, do not overuse or underuse abbreviations, and, if you do use abbreviations, make sure they are common enough to be understood by your readers. The criterion recommended by APA to determine common use is whether your abbreviation is entered in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as a word entry, as opposed to being marked abbr. If it is not a word entry, write the term to be abbreviated out completely and follow it with the abbreviation in parentheses (APA6, pp. 106–107).


The results of studies of simple reaction time (RT) to a visual target have shown a strong negative relation between RT and luminance. [This abbreviation is non-standard and therefore needs to be written out before it is abbreviated]

When referring to common governmental abbreviations as a reference, you also need to spell out that abbreviation at first mention in the text and first mention in the parenthetical citation.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2017 Travel Notices, Madagascar experiences the bubonic plague once a year. However, in 2017, many areas throughout the island were affected by plague pneumonia (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017). The CDC recommends strong insect repellent, containing DEET, as a preventative measure.

For more information on acronym use, including overuse and underuse, visit the APA Style Blog website (, or review the APA 6th Manual, Sections 4.22–4.30, pp. 108–111.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Travel notes: Plague in Madagascar. Retrieved from

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