The Volume of a Drop

waterdropccken_mauSometimes I get a question that doesn’t have an answer.

Today’s question was about the rules for using a shortened name. For example, when do you write “Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC)” and use “TMCC” in the rest of the document, and when do you write out the full name every time you use it in a document?

Clearly, you don’t need to abbreviate it if the name only appears once or twice in a document, and it probably makes sense to use the abbreviation when the name appears eight times on two pages, but there isn’t a specific rule I can cite. The answer is to simply use your own judgment. Maybe create a house style.

It reminds me of a time when I was a biology graduate student working with undergraduates in a summer program. One student, Roland, was particularly detail-oriented. I’m not good with names, but I remember Roland because Roland almost popped a gasket when we told him to put a drop of oil on his slide before setting the slide cover on top of his specimen.

“What volume is the drop?” he asked.

“It’s just a drop. Like this,” the teacher said as he held up the slide.

“But how many milliliters are in the drop?” Roland asked.

“I don’t know. It’s just a drop,” the instructor answered.

Roland eventually gave up on the professor and tried to get the graduate students to tell him the volume of the drop. I don’t think he ever believed that the exact volume didn’t matter, but it didn’t.

Sometimes you just have to use your best judgment. I wonder what ever happened to Roland.

Waterdrop image by Ken-Mau at Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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3 Responses to The Volume of a Drop

  1. When I worked in the newspaper business we used the “first reference rule.” That meant that no matter how long or long the story was, or how many times the reference appeared, we were to spell out the first reference, then use the abbreviation or acronym with all subsequent references.

  2. I meant to say in my previous post, no matter how long or how short the story was. Not how long or how long. That’s what I get for not proofreading my comments before I make them.

  3. Scott says:

    Nice shortcut, unless you’re talking about something like “Federal Union Credit Knowledgebase”. Then I’d just spell it out.