One of the things which many copyeditors conveniently ignore unless instructed specifically by the publisher is abbreviations. While not changing a term to its acronym or abbreviation if it has come before in the manuscript may not be that big a crime (depends!), certainly using the same abbreviation for two different terms is one. If “PI” stands for “persistent infection”, it’s bad practice to use “PI” for “persistently infected”, even though they may not look that much different at first sight. Of course, you do rarely find an abbreviation being accepted for two terms, even if completely different, especially for books dealing with maths, physics or biology to a certain extent. It’s advisable to have a list of glossary terms or nomenclature (even rarer is same symbol for two different quantities) somewhere in the book, or advise the author to do the same, in such a case, so that both terms can be listed one after the other, and the reader when confused in the text can immediately refer the glossary/nomenclature/list of abbreviations.

Abbreviations bring with them a host of other issues, all of which take not as much time as carefulness. This becomes especially true for biology texts, where a figure would have most of its labels in the form of abbreviations, and then you have to cross-check whether the caption has all of them or defined or not. Plus if the caption has some extra abbreviation not present in the figure itself! Different projects would also have different styles, in that whether the captions stand independently of the text, or in continuity with the text. In the latter case, if an abbreviation has already come in the text, it need not be defined again in the caption. Choosing a style would also mostly depend on the editor, unless the publisher has given instructions to this much detail. And then, the editor has to think of the targeted readership, kind of book, estimated bulk and cost of the book (since more lines means more pages means drastic increase in costs), reader-friendliness, and then finally his/her own convenience.

Style might further extend to whether an abbreviation can be at the start of a new sentence/paragraph, whether common acronyms like laser and scuba are also to be expanded at first occurrences, how much of the common ground to be considered really common (i.e., though any reader of such a book would know that DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid and 5-HT is serotonin, you might not expand DNA but still expand 5-HT and even AIDS maybe). Considerations in a book series might also expect you to have a regular coordination with the volume editors, so that an abbreviation stands for only one thing not only in a particular chapter or a particular volume even, but across the whole series! And lastly, brand names, industry names sometimes look like abbreviations. Don’t erroneously query author to provide expansion: there is none! It might not only make you feel dumb later on, but also make the author feel (justifiably) angry.

Acronyms bring a different set of issues altogether. An editor has to know how a particular acronym is pronounced, so that he can insert the correct preceding article. NATO is not pronounced as en-ay-tee-oh but as if it is a word, naatoh. Hence we would say “a NATO meeting”, not “an NATO meeting”. Similarly, “an SS officer”, not “a SS officer”, since the pronounciation now would be ess-ess. Plurals also require care in not adding an “s” blindly. If “region of operation” was abbreviated as “ROP”, then ROPs (not ROP’s!) would mean “regions of operation” and not “region of operations”. “Region of operation” and “region of operations” would be two “different” terms and would require two different acronyms. And a blind search & replace procedure could be dangerous when dealing with abbreviations. They, whether in expanded or abbreviated forms, could be present in quoted matter, references, tables and boxes, glossary/nomenclature, front & back matter (including the chapter title itself!), permission statements, in short anywhere. And all these places would require not a blind adherence to what you were doing in the text, but some other considerations as well. In the text itself, a context might dictate sticking to the redefining of an abbreviation/acronym (even though defined before). For example, the author might be talking about how a certain term got coined, you would hardly replace that whole term itself by its abbreviation making the whole point moot!

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