Avoid Alphabet Soup

No, don’t worry, Campbell’s hasn’t recalled any of their cans of alphabet soup.

Rather, I was referring to the overuse and abuse of TLAs, or three-letter acronyms.

When I was a technology magazine editor, a computer-related press release typically resembled a bowl of alphabet soup,

and after reading a single paragraph, my head would start swimming with all the letters in the soup. Here’s a real-life example:

CIDR and VLSM

Today, the standard methods for moving the network/host address boundary are variable-length subnet masking (VLSM) for host addressing and routing inside a routing domain, and classless interdomain routing (CIDR) for routing between routing domains. Think of a routing domain as an ISP’s collection of routers. And although treated separately here for introductory reasons, it is important to realize that VLSM is the fundamental mechanism of CIDR. CIDR (defined in RFC 1519) and VLSM (defined in RFC 1860) address more general issues than simple subnetting….

YIKES! It’s almost unreadable. Yes, we use a lot of acronyms as a shorthand method of conveying familiar terms to each other while doing business together. However, when someone just outside your “lingosphere” tries to read it, both the reading pace and understanding level take a deep plunge into the soup bowl, even if you spell out each acronym the first time it is used, as in the snippet above.

Basically, you have three ways to make your alphabet soup disappear:

Spell acronyms out all the time – this is best done for shorter words and phrases.

Try to avoid lumping multiple acronyms into the same sentence or paragraph.

Put your spoon down, pick up your bowl, and SLUURRRPPP!

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