I'm writing a thesis now and I would like to know if it is wrong to introduce an abbreviation in the first or second chapter and then in another chapter use the full version. I want to use the full version or else the current chapter I'm writing would be full of abbreviations and it would look bad imo, but there's also a rule for my thesis that I should be coherent with notation along the document.


1 Answer 1


First, remember that at the heart of good writing is an understanding, and respect for, the capabilities of the reader. The value of rules about writing is that they can help to guide you in the right direction .. but sticking to hard to a so-called rule might well lead you to come unstuck and lose your reader. That's definitely not something you want in a thesis. You want your reader to say at the end, "That was a joy to read, it was so easy to follow."

So, a good rule of thumb for a paper (not a thesis) is that if you only use an abbreviation once or twice, perhaps even three times, in the whole paper and you are not constrained by a word limit, then do not use, or even announce, the abbreviation at all.

However, as you will have experienced yourself, abbreviations can help to make writing seem less turgid by reducing the number of words that a reader has to cross in order to grasp an idea ... but they only work if the reader has a good idea of what they mean. If an abbreviation is not use frequently, and in a way that reinforces the idea that it abbreviates, then it can be a hindrance rather than a help

Weighing up the issues in the two paragraphs above, I suggest that you treat each chapter of your thesis as if it were a paper on its own. Thus, if the abbreviation would only occur a couple of times in a chapter, then don't use it at all; just write the words out in full. On the other hand, if it would occur many times in a chapter because it is central to the ideas and argument of the chapter, then by all means use the abbreviation but be sure to re-announce the abbreviation the first time you use it in a chapter.

One of the advantages of following this practice is that thesis markers often read theses in pieces (frequently chapters!) rather than at a single sitting. If you follow the suggestion above, then a marker/examiner who reads a chapter one day that has abbreviations in it, reads a chapter without abbreviations the next day, and is then faced with a new chapter with abbreviations, they will have a nice gentle reminder about what the abbreviations mean.

Theses and books, are not the same as journal papers, and there are very good reasons for adapting the style that you might use for a journal to better suit your thesis.

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    Here is a trick I learned while I was writing my own thesis. Create a bookmark on some light card, perhaps about 4 cm wide and a little shorter than page length. On it, create a table of important abbreviations that you use in the thesis. Laminate the bookmark, and use a narrow ribbon to tie it into the binding or spine at the top of the thesis. It will help the examiner not to lose their place while they read the thesis, and they will have a handy guide if ever they do get confused about an abbreviation. A happy examiner is a good thing. Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 11:32

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