An interesting discussion with participants on a recent course regarding the use of acronyms and abbreviations. I was asked about the impact on the reader if they don’t understand such a term in a proposal that they’re reading.
Here goes with my rough list of possible sub-conscious reactions from the evaluator, facing an unknown abbreviation:
• “I feel stupid”
• “I don’t understand what they’re talking about”
• “I guess they mean that….” (risky all round, if their guess is wrong!)
• “I can’t follow this – I won’t bother reading the rest of the answer”
• “I can’t follow this – it’s a poor answer – I’ll give it a low score”
• “Working with this vendor would be really tough. I’d never know what they’re talking about, and would always be made to feel stupid”.
In the circumstances, it’s probably not worth taking the risk: avoid abbreviations where possible, and explain them clearly when you do decide to use them.
The Times had a perfect illustration of this in its corrections column a couple of weeks back:
The first two queries to arrive online referred to last Saturday’s report on the G8 summit, which mentioned “Russia’s most prominent NGOs”. Both readers wanted to know what an NGO is, a timely reminder of the old maxim that a newspaper should never underestimate the intelligence of its readers, but never overestimate their knowledge. It stands for non-governmental organisation, and we should of course have spelt it out at the first mention.