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Gerald L. Baum, MD, FCCP
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Affiliations: Tel Aviv, Israel 
 ,  Dr. Baum is Professor of Medicine (Emeritus), and Medical Director, Israel Lung Association, Tel Aviv.

Correspondence to: Gerald L. Baum, MD, FCCP, 52 Hagolan Street, Givat Savyon 55900, Israel; e-mail: jbaum@post.tau.ac.il

Chest. 2001;119(2):322. doi:10.1378/chest.119.2.322
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For a variety of reasons, scientific articles contain more and more abbreviations. Part of the problem is that the terminology of various disciplines has become cumbersome to write in full. In addition, limitation of space in journals puts a premium on brevity; thus, editors are likewise seduced by short collections of letters rather than long multiword terms that are written repeatedly in the body of submitted articles. These reasons are understandable, but the increasing use of abbreviations has become intolerable in my opinion.

The purpose of language is to convey information, ideas, and understanding. Words have been created to achieve those ends reasonably efficiently, and when a word is not understood the reader can use a dictionary. Dictionaries are updated from time to time, because English, a living language, is constantly adding words to the total lexicon. There is a high likelihood, therefore, of being able to clarify the meaning of a confusing word written in the text of an article. But this same capability does not exist for abbreviations!

Many abbreviations are used in written English and appear in unabridged dictionaries. Many of these abbreviations have been in use long enough for their meaning to be clear to a majority of readers. Newer abbreviations, however, do not appear in dictionaries, and often only those who write them understand what they mean—this in spite of a glossary, which may appear somewhere in the article in which the abbreviations are used.

As a lover of English, a reader of medical journals, and a student of many of the wonders that emanate from current research, I humbly suggest that we come to some compromise in the use of abbreviations. This could include a cooperative effort by the editors of medical journals to produce a dictionary of abbreviations, which could be found on a web site and would be updated at frequent intervals. There could also exist a policy of insisting on the use of complete word phrases by authors in place of all but the most generally understood abbreviations. As for the added length of the articles, I believe the solution is clearly to shorten the general text of the articles.

The objective of writing is to communicate ideas accurately and clearly. To that end, some improvement of the current free-wheeling situation vis-a-vis abbreviations is clearly indicated. I hope that other readers, who feel as I do, will stimulate the editors of medical journals to approach this problem creatively and productively.




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