The Problem with Acronyms

By Doug Drew 

Research shows most viewers are doing other things when watching the news. In many cases, the television is simply background noise. The TV is on, but viewers are distracted. Very few viewers are simply sitting in front of the television watching news. They may have news on, but they are busy getting ready for the day, getting dressed, getting the kids ready for school, making breakfast ,lunch, or dinner, folding laundry, paying bills, etc.

Simply put, viewers are just not paying close attention, which means that we have to work extremely hard to make sure our writing and producing is easy for the viewer to understand.

Acronym’s usually don’t work
The other day I was watching a local television newscast when I heard that anchor say that “Nitsa cited driver error in a recent crash.” “Nitsa” I thought to myself”? I have been in the news business a long time and I had never heard that term . It took just a few moments to figure out what the writer was trying to accomplish. Instead of saying “The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration,” the writer made up a word that very few people use, and it threw me off.


Most news people don’t understand that most viewers aren’t the news junkies they think they are. Most viewers don’t live in the world of government agency jargon. Stay away from using acronym’s and abbreviations.

There are always exceptions. One could argue acronym’s like NATO and OPEC are okay. But if you asked ten people on the street what they mean, I bet you would get at least five people who would have no clue. Dow Smith wrote a great book called the Power Producer, and he states in the book “If there is any doubt in your mind that the public won’t easily understand the abbreviation, then use the full name.” If you are looking for a good book on writing and producing, I highly recommend it, which is available through

Clear and Concise
The best writing is clear, concise and to-the-point. It’s your job to communicate an idea as clearly as possible. If you make your viewers stop and think what it is you are trying to say, you have failed. Don’t make viewers work at trying to figure out what the story is about. If viewers have to stop and ponder what it is that was just said they are going to miss the next few lines of copy.

It’s about the viewer
Writers who use a play-on-words are often thrilled at how clever they are. But it’s not about you, it is about the viewer. Everything you do should be focused on telling a story as clearly as possible.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at