Do abbrs. bother u?

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 54, No. 2, March 2012, Page 61 Editorials

An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase used to represent the whole for con­venience or to improve comprehen­sion. Example: LMFAO (if you don’t know who or what this stands for, ask your kids or check Google). Now this is what I call a good abbreviation. Not only do they perform good music (that’s a hint) but their name is tongue in cheek and makes you chuckle.

At the BCMJ the Editorial Board reviews manuscripts monthly for publication consideration. Over the years we have noticed the number of ab­breviations has been increasing at an alarming rate. Now abbreviating a long title or using commonly accepted abbreviations makes sense, but some of the things being abbreviated lately are surprising.

LBP for low back pain I can accept, but is C-LBP for chronic low back pain really necessary? What about VAS for visual analog scale (apparently if you sever this scale you can’t have babies anymore)? Does spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) really need to be abbreviated? Is fitness so complicated that SE has to stand for structured exercise? When was the last time you referred to a radiation oncologist as an RO (personally, I like to call them the glow doctors)? Are health authorities really so funny as to justify HA? Isn’t a TRUS a device for hernias instead of a trans-rectal ultrasound? What about PST-PC? Doesn’t this sound like your computer has suffered some emotional upheaval instead of problem-solving therapy in primary care? 

Here at the Journal we think BD stands for Brian Day, but apparently it stands for bipolar disorder. 

So I am asking authors not only to stop, but to reverse this trend (RTT) in medical writing (MW) and write more clearly (WMC). A suggestion to RTT and WMC is to use pronouns and other nouns in reference to people, groups, tests, etc., in order to eliminate abbreviations (ABBR). I think most people (MP) when reading find that ABBR interrupt flow (IF) and interfere with reading comprehension (RC). 

MP when faced with ABBR have to stop reading (SR) and review the previous paragraphs (RTPP) thereby refreshing their memories (RTM) so that they can facilitate their RC. MP would prefer not having to SR and IF to RTPP and wouldn’t mind fewer ABBR and would actually prefer to read the original words (OW) again. Otherwise the text (T) gets quite messy (QM) and basically not enjoyable to read (ETR). 

So let’s RTT and WMC using the OW allowing readers to not have to SR, IF, RTM, and RTPP to improve RC. Let’s make MW more ETR for MP by eliminating unnecessary ABBR in the QM T.
—DRR (irony intended)

David R. Richardson, MD. Do abbrs. bother u?. BCMJ, Vol. 54, No. 2, March, 2012, Page(s) 61 - 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.

An alternate version of ICMJE style is to additionally list the month an issue number, but since most journals use continuous pagination, the shorter form provides sufficient information to locate the reference. The NLM now lists all authors.

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For more information on the ICMJE Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, visit

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