The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes a widely-accepted documentation style guide for writers in the social sciences. The APA style guide allows individuals working in and studying the social sciences to be consistent when referencing sources used for research. Acronyms are widely used and understood abbreviations such as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). NASA is an example of a true acronym as it is pronounced as a single word. APA is an example of an abbreviation as the proper pronunciation is the reading of each of the individual three letters (A – P – A).

Formatting Acronyms According to the APA Style Guide

Decide what terms you want to use an acronym for in your paper.

Write out the entire phrase the first time you use it, followed by the acronym in parenthesis.

Use only the acronym throughout your paper after the first reference unless there are multiple pages between the first reference and subsequent references. If there is the possibility that your reader may not remember what the acronym stands for then you may choose to write out the entire phrase again.


  • APA style discourages the use of frequent abbreviations and acronyms in a paper. The main reason for using either is that it will save space and be easier for your reader to process the information through an acronym than if you were to write out an entire phrase each time you used it.

    Use an acronym if it will be referred to frequently throughout your text or because it is commonly known and understood. Many abbreviations such as FBI are commonly referred to as acronyms and are used as such in papers because they are understood by the general population.


  • Readers are only able to remember a few acronyms or abbreviations at a time when they are being introduced. Make sure you limit the number of acronyms you choose to use and only use those that appear frequently throughout your paper.