Dealing with acronyms in LaTeX

October 21, 2013

I recently stumbled on what looks to be a very useful \(\LaTeX{}\) package called acronym. Its purpose is to simplify the task of defining and using acronyms (and initialisms) when writing papers in \(\LaTeX{}\) — a very common task in most academic fields, including linguistics.

The gist of acronym is that, once you properly define an acronym, you can use a single command, \ac{<label>}, to generate either the “full form” of the acronym when it’s the first time the term is used, or the “short form” when the term and acronym have already been introduced.

For example, we might want to do the following:

Chomsky introduced the notion of Poverty of the Stimulus (POTS) to argue that lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor invidunt ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua.

Evidence for POTS comes from the fact that at vero eos et accusam et justo duo dolores et ea rebum. Stet clita kasd gubergren, no sea takimata sanctus est Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

where the first occurrence of the term Poverty of the Stimulus is in its “full form”, i.e. the long-form term Poverty of the Stimulus plus the short-form acronym POTS, and any subsequent occurrence is simply the acronym.

With acronym it’s as easy as:

The relevant line is: \acrodef{pots}[POTS]{Poverty of the Stimulus}. The command \acrodef takes two required arguments and one optional argument:

  1. The acronym label, in this case pots (similar to a bibkey in BibTeX).
  2. The acronym (optional), also called short form in the documentation, in this case POTS.
  3. The long form, in this case Poverty of the Stimulus.

It might seem weird that the acronym is optional, but that’s because if no acronym is given, then acronym will use the label as the acronym. So you could do \acrodef{POTS}{Poverty of the Stimulus, and that would produce “POTS”; however, I prefer my labels to be lowercase, because I’m lazy when typing.

acronym also provides the commands \acf, \acl, and \acs for producing full, long, and short forms manually.

What if you want the term Poverty of the Stimulus to be italicized in the full form? Then use the command \acfi (mnemonic: acronym fullform italic). Caveat: When using \acfi, for some reason the acronym does not get marked as “used”. Thus, if \acfi{pots} is the first occurrence of the term, then the very next \ac{pots} will produce the full “Poverty of the Stimulus (POTS)” rather than just “POTS”. To rectify this, use the \acused command, which marks its argument as “used”.:

The last thing I’ll mention is that instead of using \acrodef in the document’s preamble, you can instead use the acronym environment inside the document, with acronym entries defined using the \acro command. The difference is that now acronym will produce a nice listing of all acronyms and their long forms. You can even add the withpage package option to list the pages that each acronym first occurs on. I imagine this would be very useful for a book or long manuscript to have.

For a list of all available commands and their descriptions, see the acronym documentation: $ texdoc acronym in your nearest terminal emulator.