The government seems to be afflicted with a chronic case of AOS – Acronym Overuse Syndrome. The IRS is no different. We use so many acronyms it’s actually possible to have an entire conversation with a colleague without uttering an actual word.
Sidebar: I’ve been tickled when more than one fellow fed lapse into a blank stare when I asked what an acronym stands for. Sometimes, we inherit an acronym and never know what the letters stand for! There are some I use that I’m still not confident I know what they stand for, but I fake it well.
Having your own office or intra-agency language is fine. The problem is that agency-specific language sometimes spills over into external communication. We should never assume that everyone, or anyone, knows the definition of an acronym.
As recruiters, we are especially mindful of acronyms. Since we’re communicating externally with jobs seekers, we want to generate interest in our agency – not alienate applicants.
Take a common acronym here at the IRS for instance. At the IRS, lots of employees use BOD when referring to our Business Operating Divisions. To the rest of the world, BOD can mean Board Of Directors.
Consider these other examples:
At the IRS: Post Of Duty
Rest of the world: Proof Of Delivery or Print On Demand
At the IRS: Tour Of Duty
Rest of the world: Time Of Day or the video format .TOD
At the IRS: Position Description
Rest of the world: Professional Development or Parkinson’s Disease
The point, of course, is acronyms can mean different things to different audiences. They don’t clarify your communication, they muck up your message. Use them sparingly, and in those rare circumstances when it’s absolutely necessary to use one, be sure to define it before using it.
Which of your organization’s acronyms should be banned?
Recruitment 411 is the official blog of the IRS Recruitment Office.
Government’s not the only place where acronyms and jargon inhibit understanding by outsiders. I worked for a year at the University of Houston, and while they didn’t use a lot of acronyms, the jargon of academia can be just as impenetrable. Spelling out acronyms the first time, and occasionally using the full meaning if you’re writing an extremely long piece will go a long way to helping outsiders know what you’re talking about. Same thing with arcane jargon – explain it, or even better, use common speech instead.
This reminds me of one of my favorite ’30 Rock’ episodes where Alec Baldwin’s character Jack takes Tina Fey’s character Liz to a Lean Six Sigma retreat. At the retreat, LUNCH is actually a team building project: Lego Utilization Negating Crisi Hierarchies – and CLASS is an acronym for lunchtime: Consuming Lunch And Simple Socializing. As always, the show makes fun of corporate culture in a way that is actually not all that far-fetched.