Explain any abbreviations

Some of your users need help understanding your content. Using abbreviations can cause confusion and prevent your users from understanding your website. Avoid using abbreviations where you can and explain them when you need to use them.

Abbreviations (like Dr for Doctor) also include acronyms (NATO) and initialisms (FBI).

What to do

  • Avoid using abbreviations, acronyms and initialisms.
  • If you need to use an abbreviation, you can explain the meaning to your users by:
    • Showing the meaning in the text (for example, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)); or
    • Linking the abbreviation to a definition on a glossary page on your website; or
    • Linking the abbreviation to a definition footnote on the same page; or
    • Using the abbreviation HTML tag to expand the abbreviation.


  • Avoid using abbreviations wherever possible (for example, instead of the FBI every time you could say ‘Federal Bureau of Investigation’ once then refer to them as ‘the Bureau’. This helps users with a cognitive disability, as they may be confused by abbreviations on each occasion and sending them to a glossary or definition interrupts their concentration (and everyone else’s for that matter).
  • The tidiest solution when you need to abbreviate is the HTML option, which creates a hidden expansion that appears on hover and is understood by screen readers.
  • If your use of an abbreviation always means the same thing, you only have to define it the first time it appears on a page.
  • If your use changes you must define the word on every occasion (for example ‘Dr’ might mean ‘Doctor’ in one paragraph and ‘Drive’ as part of an address in another).


You don’t need to explain an abbreviation, acronym or initialism if it’s part of the language (for example, ‘laser’ or ‘CD’).

See also

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I'm Luke, I started Wuhcag in 2012 to help people like you get to grips with web accessibility. Check out my book, 'How to Meet the WCAG 2.0'.

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