Some messages and news releases look as if someone just dumped a Scrabble game on the page. Obscure abbreviations can be an obstacle to comprehension, and they are not necessary.

The issue is common in technical industries, such as defense. One company opened a news release this way: Zylox this week completed final testing of the Canadian Automated Air Traffic System (CAATS), marking the delivery of this world class Air Traffic Management (ATM) system. Developed for NAVCANADA, CAATS sets a new global standard in advanced ATM by providing air traffic controllers with a system that will help them meet the increasing demands of air traffic.

What it really means is simply this:  Zylox has delivered a world-class computerized system to help Canada manage its air traffic. Final site tests were completed this week. The writer did not need to refer to Air Traffic Management system or to NAVCANADA, because that is not essential information. (By the way, not all abridgements are acronyms. An acronym is an abbreviation that is pronounced as a word, such as NATO or OPEC. Other compressed forms are simply abbreviations, collections of initials.)

Ease the reader into the body of a message by providing a simplified summary in the opening sentence or two, a snapshot of what the main point is. In this case, it would have been sufficient to simply say that the company had won a contract to keep the Navy’s computer networks running. Specific names of programs or products can be mentioned further down, after the reader has context.

Throughout the message, you can use simpler references, rather than repeating the abbreviation. In the example above, you can alternate between mentioning the acronym (CAATS) and referring simply to Canada’s air traffic system, the new air traffic system, or simply the system. Refer to what it is or what it does, rather than by its complicated name. Although the Navy calls it the Common Afloat Local Area Network Infrastructure (CALLI), it is the process for providing computing support to submarines and ships.

Familiar abbreviations pose no problem, but in some industries, there are so many of them that people cannot possibly remember them all without pausing to think about them. This is a process called lexical retrieval, in which we retrieve meaning and images from the lexicon (vocabulary) stored in our brain. But people don’t want to waste a lot of time doing that unnecessarily.