Back in the day, it seemed we put periods in every acronym. Much of that has changed from when I was in elementary school. That was way before zip codes and two-letter state abbreviations. That was even before calculators, copy machines, and yes, even area codes. But I’m not here to talk about my age (by now you’re imagining I’m about ninety).
So, in case you don’t know what an acronym is, I could give you the long, tedious definition in Merriam-Webster’s, but I’ll spare you and just say that if you take the first letter of each word in a name or phrase and put them together, you have an acronym. They’re everywhere, and just about every corporation seems to have one. Here are a few: IBM, NATO, FAFSA, LASER . . . and now we have chat and Internet acronyms like LOL and BFF, BFN, BRB (I always thought that meant “bathroom break,” but that could apply, right?), DBEYR and FWIW (okay, if you’re not up on all these, don’t concern yourself).
In this fast-food, fast world, we seem to want to shorten everything we say and write. Maybe someday everything will have been converted to acronyms. I can picture it now. Well, if you watch your kids text, they are already doing it. Maybe it makes you ROFL, but I often shake my head confused.
So, getting BOT (back on topic), the rule for using periods with acronyms is pretty simple. Just leave them out for ones with capital letters, even if they have lowercase letters in there somewhere: US, UN, PhD, NY, IL, and so on.
Abbreviations have some differences, so if you are using an abbreviation that uses lowercase letters, you normally keep the period in: a.m., p.m., i.e., etc., etc. Chicago lists a.k.a. but Webster’s uses aka. I prefer the latter, since simpler and shorter is better to me.
If you’re writing a name with initials for the first and middle names, you’d use periods, such as in my name, C. S. Lakin (there is always a space between the first two initials but not when using three initials, like G.R.R. Martin). However, you would use just letters when a complete name has been changed into initials, like JFK.
Should you ever spell out an acronym? If you’re not too sure the term is universally understood, and you plan to refer to it numerous times in your writing, yes, spell it out the first time, and after that just use the acronym. A good way to do that is to use the acronym, then spell it out in parentheses following.
If you still need more on this topic, RTM (read the manual). Happy abbreviating!