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DUA: Don’t Use Acronyms, by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, Persuasive Litigators Blog


I’m monitoring a criminal trial this week, and at the end of opening statements, the judge looked at the jury and said, ‘Okay, both sides have been referring to ‘AUSAs’ — they know what that means and I know what that means, but I’m guessing that you don’t know that that means?” Head nods from the jury. ‘It means ‘Assistant U.S. Attorney,’ continued the judge, “so please fill that in wherever you hear it.” Good solution? Better than nothing. But it would have been best if both sides would have simply used the title instead of abbreviating it. The tiny amount of additional time it takes to say ‘Assistant U.S. Attorney’ rather than ‘USA’ is well worth it in terms of clarity and understanding.

But some attorneys, experts, and other witnesses continue to love the economy of the acronym. But particularly in spoken communication, and particularly in front of a jury, that economy comes at a cost: meaning lost in translation and increased cognitive workload even when it is translated. Practical persuaders before a lay audience are well advised to avoid acronyms almost entirely. Okay, I say almost entirely — there are some exceptions (and besides ‘Generally Avoid Acronyms’ would have been ‘GAA.’) The few acronyms that ought to still be used are those that have such widespread familiarity that they almost become words in their own right: USA, CNN, or ASAP. In all other cases where the acronyms don’t benefit from automatic translation, the litigator is best off choosing the full expression and not the acronym. This post takes a look at a few reasons, implications, and replacements for trial persuaders looking to lose the alphabet soup of acronyms. . . .