Using Full Stops Effectively in Abbreviations for Your Thesis or Dissertation

Using Full Stops Effectively in Abbreviations for Your Thesis or Dissertation
Academic and scientific writing tends to make frequent use of abbreviations to express a wide variety of concepts and terms as concisely as possible, so it is very likely that you will use of at least a few abbreviations in your thesis or dissertation. Each abbreviation has to be used carefully, however, to produce the desired effect. The abbreviation must be correct and remain consistent in form and meaning across all chapters and other parts of a thesis or dissertation, and this includes appropriate punctuation. However, deciding where and when full stops are needed in the various kinds of abbreviations can be a little tricky at times.

There is, for instance, an important difference between true abbreviations and contractions. True abbreviations usually take one or more full stops to indicate the missing letters of the words concerned (as in Nov. and i.e., with the latter representing the Latin ‘id est,’ meaning ‘that is’). Contractions, on the other hand, do not use stops (Mr and Mrs). The principle is demonstrated by the abbreviation St: without a full stop, it is generally a contraction and means ‘Saint,’ but with a stop (St.) it is an abbreviation and means ‘Street.’ Unfortunately, this pattern is not always predictable, so Ph.D., M.A. and other degree titles can be written with or without the full stops (PhD and MA being equally acceptable).
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Full stops are not usually needed in acronyms and initialisms such as UNICEF and REM. These abbreviated forms are more likely to use full stops when they are recorded in lowercase letters (m.p.h.), but even so they are often written without the stops (mph). If full stops are used, they should be added after all letters in an acronym or initialism, not just the last one (m.p.h., not mph.). Whether you are writing British or American English can also make a difference, with American English tending to use full stops more often than British English does, including in contractions such as Mrs. and Mr. and initialisms such as U.S.A. and R.E.M .

When a single capital letter serves as the abbreviation for a word, it is generally followed by a full stop. In most cases this applies to the initials of personal names, as in W.H. Smith, but citation styles vary, so guidelines must always be checked to be sure you are using the correct forms in your references. Full stops are not required for compass points (N, S, E and W), however, or when an entire name is abbreviated (as in JFK) or when the letter is actually a symbol (R or U in statistics, for example). Standard abbreviated forms for weights and measures, whether they consist of one letter or more, usually do not take full stops (m, cm and kg).

There are two possibilities when a true abbreviation such as vol. or ch. is used as a plural with an ‘s’ at the end. When the ‘s’ is added, the abbreviation technically becomes a contraction because it includes the last letter of the plural form of the word. This means that a full stop is not strictly required, and some authors will choose not to use one, but a stop is frequently used for consistency with the singular form (vols. or chs.).

Finally, when an abbreviated form using a final full stop appears at the end of a sentence, no additional stop is necessary because the stop at the end of the abbreviation also closes the sentence. ‘Trials begin at 8 a.m.’ is therefore correct, but ‘Trials begin at 8 a.m..’ is not. If the abbreviation appears within parentheses, however, a final stop should follow the closing parenthesis, as it does at the end of the last sentence of the preceding paragraph.
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