How to use APA style abbreviations in your dissertation

According to the APA Style, you only use an abbreviation if it standard, represents something that is repeated frequently in your dissertation or allows you to save considerable space.

When should you use abbreviations?

According to the APA guidelines, abbreviations should be limited to cases in which:

  1. the abbreviation is standard and will not make the text difficult to understand; and
  2. using it will save space and significantly help to avoid repetition.

Measurements and statistical indicators should only be abbreviated when they are accompanied by numerical values, for example, M = 7.53, SD = 6.85 and 2 mg. In addition, only the following time abbreviations can be used: h (hours), min (minutes) and s (seconds). Abbreviations are not used for days, weeks, months and years.

Introducing an abbreviation

Include the abbreviation in parentheses behind the full term to introduce it. For example: computer-mediated communication (CMC). Now that the reader knows what this abbreviation means, you must consistently use it in the text.

Exceptions

Abbreviations should generally not be used in three places: the title of your paper, research questions/sub-questions and the very start of a sentence. In these instances, use the full term instead.

If an abbreviation is very commonly understood, you can use it without formally introducing it. Examples include HIV and IQ.

Periods and spaces

Do not use periods at the end of abbreviations related to measurement, such as kW, kg and min. If an abbreviation uses only capital letters (such as HTML, CSS and UK), don’t include any periods or spaces.

Exceptions

Periods and spaces may be used in the following cases:

  • a proper name (A.J. Diepen);
  • participants who wish to maintain some anonymity (H.R.L.);
  • when the abbreviation for “United States” is used as an adjective (U.S. Congress);
  • certain Latin abbreviations (etc.);
  • source references (Vol. 3, pp. 324-326, 2nd ed.); and
  • the abbreviation for inch (in.).

Plural abbreviations

Abbreviations are generally pluralized by adding an “s” (e.g. BMWs, GPSs and mins). No apostrophe is necessary. If the abbreviation is in italics, the “s” should be in regular font (as in SDs).

In-text citations and reference list entries should be as concise as possible, which makes abbreviations quite handy to use. One important rule is to always abbreviate the first and middle names of authors and editors (such as Verhoeven, T. & Bearded, A. M.).

APA abbreviations in citations and references
TermAbbreviation
Editioned. *
Revised editionRev. ed.
Second edition2nd ed.
Editor(s)Ed. / Eds.*
Translator(s)**Trans.
No daten.d.
Page(s)p. / pp.
Paragraphpara.
Volume(s)Vol.  / vols.
NumberNo.
SupplementSuppl.

* The abbreviations for “edition” and “editor” seem the same, but note that the former starts with a lowercase letter (ed.) while the latter uses a capital letter (Ed.).

** Names of translators are not mentioned, except for classical works that have been translated several times. In this case, include the translator (if known) after the title and the original year of publication at the very end. For example: Shakespeare, W. (2010) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (M. Driessen, trans.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Publishing Wereldbibliotheek. (Original work published in 1595).

Abbreviations in your citations and reference list

If you take advantage of our APA Generator, you do not have to worry that your citations and reference list entries use abbreviations correctly – they are generated automatically for you.

General rules for abbreviations in your thesis

We have also compiled the rules about using abbreviations in a thesis.

Is this article helpful?
Bas Swaen

Bas is co-founder of Scribbr. Bas loves to teach and is an experienced thesis writer. He tries to help students with writing clear and easy to comprehend articles about difficult topics.

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3 comments

Javier Morales Mediano
April 18, 2017 at 1:40 PM

Hi Bas,
Thank you for your post.
I still have one question. How do you deal with abbreviations of foreign terminology?
When putting it in the List of Abbreviations, should I put the orginal meaning? The translation? Both? Original one and then the translation in brackets? The other way around?
Regards,
Javier.

Reply

Bas Swaen
Bas Swaen (Scribbr-team)
April 20, 2017 at 5:01 PM

Hi Javier, I would write the one you are using in your work. If you are working with the translation, write the translation.

Reply

Javier Morales Mediano
April 21, 2017 at 11:43 AM

Thank you Bas. Cheers!

Reply

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