To abbreviate or not to abbreviate—that is the question. In this day and age of texting, people are becoming adept at using abbreviations. However, this is not appropriate, for the most part, when writing fiction or nonfiction, unless your characters have dialogues that involve texting. You have to spell out the words. There is a lot more to know about abbreviations in creative and formal writing, of course, but here are several common occurrences writers are sometimes unfamiliar with or confused by.

For example, if you want your character to drive a vehicle or motorcycle fast, you might be tempted to write this: Jake put the pedal to the metal. His bike lurched forward. Soon he was cruising at 95 MPH. But, that wouldn’t be correct. You need to say he was cruising at ninety-five, believing your readers know you mean at what speed; or write that the numbers on the speedometer hit ninety-five; or write that he was cruising at ninety-five miles per hour. [Notice that 95 became spelled out (with a hyphen), as well as MPH. Numbers under 100 are to be spelled out, unless other numbers in the same paragraph are 100 or higher.] It’s the same for other words people tend to abbreviate when numerals are involved, like (lbs.), which should be written as pounds, (ft.), which should be written as feet or foot (he was six feet tall/he was six foot two), and (#), which should be written as number, and so on.

Technical writing and non-fiction still have rules, but you can use common abbreviations in these forms. You must spell the words out the first time and show the abbreviation in parentheses next to it. Example: RAdio Detection And Ranging (Radar) or Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Once you do this, don’t go back and forth between use of the full term and the abbreviation—use the abbreviation, unless it is used at the start of a sentence.

What about Addresses?
When an address is part of text, spell it out: Avenue, Boulevard, Building, Circle, Court, Drive, Lane, Parkway, Place, Road, Square, Street, Terrace. Also spell out directions that are part of an address, like North, South, East, and West (e.g., South Parkway). You don’t spell directions out when the address includes NW, NE, SE, SW (e.g., Aerie Parkway NE).

What about States?
Anytime you write a state name by itself, it should be spelled out (New York, not NY). When you write a state name after a city, it’s still preferred to be spelled out (Lima, Ohio)—except for the District of Columbia, which should be written as Washington, D.C. However, some cities are so well known that the state or country does not need to be mentioned: New York City (you need to add “City” to clarify between the city and the state—or if you mean a particular borough of the city (there are five), use the specific one: Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens); Atlanta; New Orleans; San Francisco; Paris; London; etc. Make sure the city you mean to use is quite clear (Athens, Greece vs. Athens, Georgia/Paris, France vs. Paris, Texas).

Never hesitate to make sure you’ve followed rules that must be followed, or get an editor who will. You will appreciate it if you and what you’ve written look good and professional.

I wish you the best with your writing, process, and progress.

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