Abbreviations / Acronyms - do they hinder a knowledge sharing environment? #communications

Lee Romero

Hi all - Here's a question for the community of knowledge management professionals here - does the use (or perhaps over-use) of abbreviations and/or acronyms in an organization encourage information silos and discourage knowledge sharing?

I have the good fortune of working with our community leader here - Stan Garfield - and one thing that Stan provides on a regular basis to our knowledge management community is a report of new discussion groups in our enterprise social networking tool.  Very frequently, when I look over the list of new groups, I see a LOT of groups using a LOT of abbreviations in their names.  To the point where I (as a relatively seasoned employee at Deloitte) don't know what they mean.

Placing myself in the position of a new hire, my reaction was that it could be very discouraging to someone trying to find the "right" group they might want to join or in which they want to pose a question.  

Similarly, in my own position, I spend a good amount of time reviewing search query logs and I can see a lot of use of abbreviations there.

Also, I know in meetings when people start using acronyms it can (and often does) immediately create a challenging discussion.  The vibe is something like, "I'll use an abbreviation that most people don't know so I sound smart", while on the other side of the conversation there is hesitance to ask what it means because the person who says, "What does XYZ mean?" can easily feel like they are exposing their ignorance (which no one wants to do). I've come out of meetings where I can be sure someone didn't follow the discussion because they didn't know what an abbreviation meant but they didn't want to ask.

My question - do you have a sense that heavy reliance on the use of acronyms presents a challenging environment in which to really encourage knowledge sharing?  Does it seem like it encourages silos?

On the positive side of things, I know that this kind of community lingo can encourage a feeling of connectedness - which can increase engagement with the community.  Is that more valuable?

Are there mitigating approaches you've used to improve this?

Thanks for your thoughts.

Lee Romero

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