AP Style holds that a few universally recognized abbreviations are required in some instances and some other abbreviations are acceptable depending on the context, but in general, as a writer, you should avoid having your writing appear as if it’s “alphabet soup.” In other words, do not use abbreviations or acronyms that your readers will not readily or quickly recognize. Below is a list, by no mean exhaustive, of accepted abbreviations in AP Style.
AAA (American Automobile Association)
AARP (American Association or Retired Persons)
ABM (anti-ballistic missile)
AMVETS (American Veterans)
BP (British Petroleum)
CT scan (Computerized tomography)
Mpg (Miles per gallon)
PTA (Parent Teacher Association)
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)
UFO (unidentified flying object)
AP Style holds that acronyms are formed from the first letters (or letters) of a series of words. For example, radar if formed from (ra)dio (d)etecting (a)nd (r)anging. An abbreviation, let’s take GB from above, is not an acronym. See our full page on abbreviations and acronyms for a more in depth discussion on their differences.
General AP Style Abbreviation Guidelines
Before a Name
You should abbreviate titles when they are used before a full name. For example, Mr., Mrs. Ms., Doctor (Dr.), Governor (Gov.), Lieutenant Governor (Lt. Gov.), Representative (Rep.), Senator (Sen.), the Reverend (the Rev.), and certain military titles such as General (Gen.), Lieutenant General (Lt. Gen.), Major General (Maj. Gen.), Colonel (Col.), Major (Maj.), etc. For a full listing of titles and their guidelines, including military titles, legislative titles, and courtesy titles, see the AP Style titles page.
After a Name
You should abbreviate junior (Jr.) and senior (Sr.) after an individual’s name. You should also abbreviate company (Co. or Cos.), corporation (Corp.), incorporated (Inc.), and limited (Ltd.) when used after the name of a corporate entity. See company names for more.
Some academic degrees such as a Ph.D. are abbreviated when appearing after an individual’s name and should be set off by a comma. For example,
- John Smith, Ph.D.
- John Smith, J.D.
Dates and Numerals
You should use the abbreviations A.D., B.C., a.m., p.m., No., and also certain months when used with figures or the day of the month. For example,
- Correct: In 900 B.C.; at 10:30 p.m., in theater No. 9, on Dec. 21.
- Wrong: Late in the p.m., we wanted to see a movie but couldn’t find the right No. theater.
These abbreviations are only acceptable when used with figures.
Abbreviate only the months Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. All months should be spelled out when used alone or with alone with the year. For example,
- Wrong: My birthday is in Aug.
- Correct: My birthday is in August.
- Wrong: They were married in Sept. 2005.
- Correct: They were married in September 2005.
- Correct: My birthday is Aug. 17, 1989.
In numbered addresses, abbreviate avenue (Ave.), boulevard (Blvd.), and street (St.).
- Correct: The President lives on Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Correct: The President lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Some states are abbreviated, as is the United States with periods (U.S.), in some circumstances. For a full list of AP Style state abbreviations, see our full page.
Government and Nongovernmental Organizations
Some organizations and government agencies are widely recognized by their initials and can be referred to using their abbreviations. However, this is not required. Let the context of your particular circumstance determine whether you want to use the abbreviation for organizations and agencies like the GOP, CIA, FBI, etc.
Avoid Awkward Constructions
The AP Stylebook states to not follow an organization’s full name with an abbreviation or acronym in parenthesis or set off by dashes. It goes on to say that if an abbreviation or acronym would not otherwise be clear upon its second reference, do not use it.
Other names that are not commonly used before the public should not be reduced to acronyms just to eliminate some words in your text.
Abbreviations are often desired in tabulations and certain types of technical writings.
Caps and Periods
For words that you cannot find in our AP Style list, use the first-listed abbreviation in Webster’s New World Dictionary.
Generally AP Style omits periods in acronyms, unless doing so would spell an unrelated word. AP Style does use periods in most two-letter abbreviations: U.S., U.N., U.K., B.A., B.C. AP itself along with GI and EU are exceptions to this rule.
Do not use periods in abbreviations that are in headlines, unless they are needed for clarity.
Use all caps, but no periods, in abbreviations that are longer and whose individual letters are pronounced individually. For example, CBS, NBC, FBI, AFL-CIO.
You should use only an initial capital letter then lowercase for acronyms of more than six letters, unless listed otherwise in our AP Style list or Webster’s New World College Dictionary.