Is it good to use abbreviations in professional communication?

I generally uses Mail or Skype to communicate with others. In that case, many times I used words such as ASAP, CTN, FYI etc.

So when should I use these words and when should I not use them?

  • I was about to reply to an all-hands calendar invite which used an acronym in the title which my colleagues didn't understand. Then I saw that it was the VP who was only 2 levels below CEO and decided to abandon the email! – Sridhar Sarnobat Feb 9 at 18:54

Is it good to use the abbreviation words in my professional communication?

It's not, unless you're using it multiple times.

When writing professional documents, you should always remain that way. Professional. even if it's informal or you're friends with them. You need to remain professional (you're representing the company you work for, not yourself). Remember, not everyone may know the abbreviations even if they are obvious in your knowledge base.

But if you're using it several times, write it in a way you'd write a report such as:

An example for something technical would be:

You've encountered a blue screen of death (BSOD) ...

then further in the conversation just do the abbreviation

To solve your problem with the BSOD ..

But for terms such as ASAP, FYI etc.. Just say "as soon as possible" and "for your information".

Because now, not only do they know what it means, they can always understand what the point is you're getting across. No-one should have to google anything to understand what you're saying, especially in a professional setting.

  • 1
    It's perfectly normal to refer to, say, the 'Department of the Environment (DoE)' at the top of a document, and then use the abbreviation elsewhere, but if I received a document that included the text 'as soon as possible (ASAP)', I would conclude one of three things: that the sender was not a native speaker, that the sender was exceedingly patronising, or that the sender was silly. – Strawberry Aug 2 '17 at 12:51
  • 2
    Just a note, if the writing is more technical, then standard and common abbreviations for that technical community can (and should) be used without explanation. For example, in web development/design, HTTP(S), HTML, CSS, JS, etc, Explanation of common abbreviations in this situation can be seen as patronizing. – jaxad0127 Aug 2 '17 at 13:39
  • I believe (?) that the handbooks of writing style for newspapers/magazines recommend using the full expansion followed by the abbreviation (or vice-versa), then using just the abbreviation in the rest of the document. As such, there is a standard for using abbreviations in formal/professional communications. – user117529 Aug 3 '17 at 6:02

The simple answer is, that it varies. Here's what I'd consider:

The communication medium

If you're using Skype (assuming the instant message component, rather than video chat) there's less expectation to be formal. What you type in an instant messaging app should be conversational, and because you're communicating in real time, it's acceptable to abbreviate for the sake of brevity.

If you're using email, expectations may differ, so read the other considerations.

If you're writing an actual letter to be sent via physical mail, it should be formal. Common abbreviations like ASAP should be avoided, although you can declare a cumbersome proper noun as an acronym and reuse it throughout. You can do this by writing out the name, followed by the acronym in parentheses - for example "Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)".

Your audience

You should also consider the ubiquity of your acronyms and abbreviations. ASAP and FYI are common, and you'd expect anyone to know them. Acronyms like SDLC or CMDB are common parlance in Information/Communications Technology, but would likely draw blank stares from anyone else. Younger people are more likely to use and recognise a broad range of communicative abbreviations.

I'd also tend toward formality based on the hierarchy in your organisation - I'd write formally to a CEO/CFO/CIO, or even my immediate supervisor, but be more casual with my peers.


How formal your communication should be also depend on how well you know the person you're communicating with. I'd try to be formal with anyone you're unfamiliar with, and adapt your style as you get to know them. If it's someone you've never communicated with in any way, your communication style is your first impression, and from my experience people are less likely to be offended by an overly formal approach.

Over time, you'll get a sense of what they're comfortable with and respond in kind, just like you would with verbal communications.

As a caveat to this - you should consider more than just your immediate audience. For example, if you're in customer service and your chat log is auditable (as a measure of your own performance, or as part the record of service provided to the customer) then your audience could feasible be anyone, and you should avoid being overly familiar.


Is it good to use the abbreviation words in my professional communication?

  • With peer, unformal communication, it's, most of the time, fine, so : YES / PROBABLY (*)
  • With peer, for the record, better keep it formal and professional, so : NO
  • With anyone (within your company) of higher rank (senior, management, HR) : NO
  • With anyone (outside your company) for business matter : NO

And not everyone knows what it means sometimes :)

Keep written communication formal and professionnal at all times.

(*) unless you know for sure the one you're talking to doesn't like/understand it, then: NO

From Writing Well for the Technical Professions : "What is good professional communication? It is writing or speaking that is accurate, complete, and understandable to its audience; that tells the truth about the data directly and clearly. (But applies to all fields/business ... IMHO ^^)

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