I'm writing my masters thesis and have the following formatting problem: should I restate acronyms once for each new large section?

When I for example introduce the term "evolutionary psychology" (which has the acronym EP) in the introduction, I state the acronym so the sentence reads like:

...has roused significant interest in the emerging field of evolutionary psychology (EP).

In the following sections, should the EP acronym also be stated in the same manner upon first mention, or can I rely on the reader to have read the introduction and know that it means evolutionary psychology?

2 Answers 2


My approach to the issue of acronyms is to restate them only after a significant gap in their use. How long I consider to be "significant" depends on how salient the acronym is in its usage. Some extremes of how I would tend to approach it:

  • If the paper is about EP, and you're talking about EP and using the acronym quite frequently, then even if you have a page or two where it happens to not appear, I would not bother to redefine.
  • If EP only appears a couple of times as a side point, then even after only a few paragraphs break I might redefine the acronym.

One exception: when I define an acronym in the abstract, I also define it in the introduction, no matter how close it is, since the abstract somewhat stands apart from the remainder of the paper.

  • This is a great answer, thank you very much (I'll refrain from accepting it firsthand to motivate others to offer their approach). Can you tell me, by the same logic that the abstract stands apart from the main text, does the introduction not also stand apart from its following chapters?
    – Ulf Aslak
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 8:02
  • @UlfAslak I do not believe the introduction stands apart from the following chapters in the same way, as the introduction does not stand alone as a complete narrative. A well-written abstract, however, is a complete document, just extremely short and lacking in detail.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 8:13
  • 1
    It's quite possible that the asbtract will be made available so as to let a reader make the decision as to whether to obtain a copy of the thesis. Having made that decision and waited for the thesis to arrive (yes this could be on paper) they shouldn't need to read the abstract again just to understand the acronyms. But acronyms aren't all that common in abstracts anyway - you could use the full form up to about 3 times unless it's very long or the abbreviated form is more common
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 15:52


A separate list somewhere at the front or the back would be helpful and may even be mandatory at your institution.

However. Whenever you think to yourself, hmm, I haven't used this one for a while and it is non-standard, so the reader may have forgotten, just use a formulation that gently reminds them, e.g. remark that EP must integrate ideas and approaches from both evolutionary science and psychology, or you know, whatever turn of phrase feels natural in context.

By the way: has roused significant interest in the emerging field of evolutionary psychology is just the sort of thing students are very fond of writing, but I never quite know exactly what it is supposed to mean that lots of people have been talking about something recently.

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