Acronyms 2: The return

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 60, No. 4, May 2018, Page 185 Editorials

I’m overdue for a good rant. Synonyms for the word rant include shout, wild, impassioned, fulminate, vociferate, diatribe, sound off, spout, pontificate, bluster, tirade, yell, and bellow. Who wouldn’t feel better after all of that is said and done?

At the BCMJ we review all sorts of submissions for publication. I remain in awe of authors who put themselves out there and take the time to craft a scientific paper, letter, or opinion piece. Risking rejection, the creative individuals writing scientific papers design and complete studies, analyze the data, organize it into a paper with a discussion and conclusion, and support it all with references. I appreciate the time, effort, and energy this process requires. However, there are certain things that drive us crazy at the BCMJ Editorial Board, and I hope that by ranting about one of them, change will follow.

I think I have night terrors about acronyms. For some reason many authors feel they must use acronyms wherever possible. I addressed this issue in a previous tongue-in-cheek editorial ( in the hope of eradicating this trend. Alas, little changed after my editorial’s publication (cementing my conviction that readership of my editorials consists more of family members than BCMJ authors). I am asking, pleading, and begging on behalf of the Editorial Board for authors to cease and desist.

Numerous acronyms in a manuscript make it difficult to read and detract from its message. I’m not talking about commonly used acronyms we all understand like DM for diabetes mellitus or CAD for coronary artery disease. I am talking about the obscure ones that not even the most scholarly readers understand. On brief perusal of last month’s manuscript submissions I found RB, ICC, LIC, CAS, APSF, ELC, DLC, DALY, YLL, YLD, DAD, ERAT, SBIRT, HDSA, and CMHA. Perhaps I’m not up to speed, but I don’t think this list contains any generally accepted frequent flyers. It is much better to use the actual words than an acronym because surely the objective is to convey meaning, not save space in the BCMJ or avoid the nuisance of typing? Also, for the love of everything holy, please don’t use an acronym for a two-word phrase such as FD for family doctor or ED for emergency department (most of us middle-aged men think ED stands for something else anyway). Finally, to prevent me from having a hypertensive stroke, don’t create an acronym for a phrase if is only used once in a manuscript.

I’m not trying to deter prospective authors, but I am striving to reduce the total number of Editorial Board member facial tics that develop each time another unnecessary acronym is used. Remember that at the BCMJ we really do appreciate and look forward to the submissions that we receive, so keep up the good work.

For my next rant perhaps I will focus on low response rate survey studies?


David R. Richardson, MD. Acronyms 2: The return. BCMJ, Vol. 60, No. 4, May, 2018, Page(s) 185 - Editorials.

Above is the information needed to cite this article in your paper or presentation. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends the following citation style, which is the now nearly universally accepted citation style for scientific papers:
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Caplan AL, Marion DW, Palmer AM, Schiding JK, et al. Solid-organ transplantation in HIV-infected patients. N Engl J Med. 2002;347:284-7.

About the ICMJE and citation styles

The ICMJE is small group of editors of general medical journals who first met informally in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1978 to establish guidelines for the format of manuscripts submitted to their journals. The group became known as the Vancouver Group. Its requirements for manuscripts, including formats for bibliographic references developed by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), were first published in 1979. The Vancouver Group expanded and evolved into the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), which meets annually. The ICMJE created the Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals to help authors and editors create and distribute accurate, clear, easily accessible reports of biomedical studies.

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