Some journals request that authors follow a specific style manual (e.g., APA or Chicago manuals of style).

One style rule is to avoid starting a sentence with an abbreviation (with some exceptions).

However, I found it unnecessary to spell out abbreviations like ANOVA (analysis of variance) or FMM (finite mixture models) every time I start sentences with them.

Should I strictly follow such rules in academic writing?

Edit: My field is biohealth sciences.

  • 1
    @mobileink - could you turn that into an answer? (Maybe without the last two sentences.) Jan 2, 2017 at 3:03
  • @mobileink If we're going to be pedantic about it, ANOVA is in fact both an abbreviation and an acronym. I think you meant "ANOVA is not an initialism". See e.g. quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/… .
    – Pont
    Jan 2, 2017 at 9:07
  • I agree that it's pretty easy to avoid starting the sentence with an abbreviation. Then it has to be clarified that although ANOVA might fall in that group (as it is both abbrev. and acronym), does FMM fall in that group for the style restrictions? On the other hand, as it has been nicely put, you can easily modify the sentence... "Using ANOVA we could understand..." etc.
    – BioGeo
    Jan 2, 2017 at 10:17
  • In which case would you start a sentence with "ANOVA", even if the style guide didn't advise against it?
    – Cape Code
    Jan 2, 2017 at 14:47
  • @CapeCode Here are some examples for ANOVA and FMM, but you can also search for others.
    – Orion
    Jan 2, 2017 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


Your writing should strive for maximal clarity in conveying your intended meaning to the reader -- that is the ultimate goal that overrides all other considerations. Style manuals are simply sets of rules that people came up with that aid writers to achieve that ultimate goal. To the extent that I would perceive a particular style rule on a particular occasion to be in conflict with the goal of conveying meaning effectively and concisely, I would see myself as free to ignore the rule.

The upshot is that as long as it doesn't happen too frequently, ignoring style rules is fine if you do it not out of laziness but out of a sincere desire to make the writing as clear as possible. If you do find yourself wanting to break the rules very frequently, you may want to consider the possibility that your intuition about what makes for clear writing is not yet sufficiently well-developed for you to make the best judgment calls on such things. In that case I would try to stick with the rules until you gain more experience.

  • As for the abbreviations rule you mentioned (which was not the official subject of the question so I'm addressing it in a comment), I think it makes a lot of sense so in general I would try following it whenever possible. It should be easy to do by making a small adjustment to your sentence structure. A related rule that I find equally useful is not to start a sentence with a mathematical symbol.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 1, 2017 at 22:27

I don't know about your field, but in mine you get a rocket if you deviate too much/too often. So I'd suggest you follow it pretty strictly, except for (as you note) terms such as ANOVA that, by the readership you're writing for, are better-known in that form than in the spelt-out form.

  • 3
    What is your field? (And less important: what does "you get a rocket" mean? I searched for this and found only memegenerator.net/instance/56214003) Jan 1, 2017 at 22:32
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    @PeteL.Clark the OED has "Rocket 7. Brit. slang (orig. Mil.). A severe reprimand. Freq. in to give (or get) a rocket." Definitely not a common usage, though.
    – Pont
    Jan 2, 2017 at 8:59
  • Still, the question is not about using in general an acronym (which in most cases has to be spelled out once at the first encounter), but rather about starting - or indeed not starting - a sentence with an abbreviation.
    – BioGeo
    Jan 2, 2017 at 10:12
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    @BioGeo actually the question is about whether style rules in general should be followed. The abbreviations at the beiginning of a sentence business was only used as a motivating example.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 2, 2017 at 12:15
  • @DanRomik That's true, but it refers to "such" style rules, so either the question needs clarification what other rules are requested or we should concentrate to such rules. As I reread the answer though, I agree that it's not so much off the point of the question (but just a little).
    – BioGeo
    Jan 2, 2017 at 15:37

The first thing to know is that while some journals request that authors follow a specific style guide, it's rather rare that they enforce that rule. So you should be fine even if you insist on starting sentences with "ANOVA". I guess the answer to the question in your title is: to the extent that you find acceptable.

Worst case scenario, the editor will asks you to make some changes to the style.

This being said, I would try to follow the guidelines as much as possible. The rules generally have sound bases in terms of legibility, and at any rate it will not make your writing worse.

For example, I agree that starting sentences with "ANOVA is..." is bad style and I would stumble on every instance (is it a Germanism maybe?). But that doesn't mean you have to spell it out each time, actually you shouldn't do that. Just rephrase adding a determinant or changing the object.


In general, before violating a rule (or even following it, ideally), understand why it's there. Many rules help good writing. But others don't, but good style guides tend to avoid those—say, "don't start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, like and, yet or but" (like in this sentence). http://www.writingconsultants.com/Guberman%27s%20Grammar%20Myths.pdf

I don't have my usage book with me and Google doesn't want to help me, but I'd think abbreviations, especially obscure, especially hard-to-pronounce ones (unlike ANOVA) make it harder to even start reading a sentence. Papers are hard enough to read otherwise. Imagine reading, dunno,

C18H21NO3 helps patients to overcome syndroms such as...

I made this example up on the spot so it's not great, but hopefully helps.

Indeed, the Chicago Manual of Style is fine with acronyms like ANOVA. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Abbreviations/faq0032.html

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