Listing acronyms from figures

When editing a document that has a lot of acronyms (initials or abbreviations pronounced as a word, such as Nasa or radar) or just plain initials (such as FBI, pronounced not as a word but by saying the letters F-B-I), I try to reduce their quantity by eliminating as many as I can. If IOTs* (initials of things) appears only once, I would delete it. When the reader comes across initials of things (IOTs), it might be useless trivia or it might be essential to memorize it in order to understand the rest of the document. The reader doesn’t know, but I can search for it with Microsoft Word’s find & replace tool and see whether it ever appears again in the document. If not, I delete it.

However, a lot of documents I edit have charts, graphs, or other figures that have been placed as pictures. Word can’t search the text in these pictures, so my practice for years has been to go through them and write down any abbreviations, initials, or acronyms that are not defined in the figure where they appear. All of them get listed in a note or glossary. When editing, I would continually refer to the written list to see what has to remain in the glossary even if it appears nowhere in the document’s text. This has involved a lot of back-and-forth referring to the written list.

Last month I thought of a better way to make that list of terms that appear in figures. It is so obvious that I am kicking myself for not thinking of it years ago: instead of writing down the abbreviations, initials, or acronyms in a separate list or file, I just add them to the document I’m editing. They can be the starting material for a glossary, simply a separate list, or added to an existing glossary, in which case I add a note to myself indicating which figure the term appears in so that I know not to delete it from the glossary.

Then when I come across initials of things (IOTs) in the text, I can search for IOTs. If it appears anywhere in the document, even just in a chart, Word should find it. If it turns up only in the glossary, with a note such as “(fig. 4),” I will know to keep IOTs in the glossary. If it turns up nowhere, I can safely delete it.

If I’m the last editor in the world to think of this, you can say, “Ha, ha! Steve has been using a handwritten list of terms that appear in figures!” If, like me, you’ve been wading through a mire of abbreviations, initials, and acronyms and struggling to cope, this may help you out of the quicksand.


*This is a silly string of initials I made up; it doesn’t belong in any serious document.

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