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When writing an academic paper should you always expand on acronyms that you use even if the acronyms are universally understood, for example;

  • IT (Information Technology)
  • WWW (World Wide Web)
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You may often be surprised how often a "universally" understood acronym turns out to be either ambiguous or not quite as universal as you believe. For example, look at all of the alternate expansions of your example of IT (some of which are even reasonable). I also find that if I wouldn't say the acronym (e.g., "WWW"), then it makes for smoother reading to use the words instead.

As such, I personally find it best to start by writing out a name in full before giving the acronym. In fact, when there is a short prose alternative like "information technology" or "web," I prefer avoid the acronym altogether.

The exception to this rule is those acronyms that have made the transition to become words (e.g., RAM, laser, radar) or that have no real expansion, such as GNU, which is more of a recursion joke than an acronym.

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    Things like 'laser', 'RAM', and 'radar' are acronyms as you said. But 'IT' and 'WWW' are initialisms, not acronyms. Of course, collectively, these are all abbreviations.
    – JNS
    Nov 9 '14 at 11:18
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    @user1997744 This appears to be a distinction that is disappearing from common usage, much like "who" vs. "whom"
    – jakebeal
    Nov 9 '14 at 13:58

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