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I am writing a technical report on a topic which includes a Virtual Private Network. These are commonly abbreviated as VPN.

However it feels strange writing something along the lines of

VPNs are often employed to ...

On the other hand a formulation such as

VPN networks are often employed to ...

is a pure tautology, as it basically means Virtual Private Networks Networks.

As for actually writing

Virtual Private Networks are often employed to ...

Although this works and is surely correct, it will fill my text with a lot of useless clutter, I can't possibly write out the abbreviation more than once or twice per paragraph.

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Related: PIN numbers, ATM machines, and VIP persons. – J.R. Jan 22 '13 at 10:55
Ah, many good answers and quickly too. Thx all of you! – fgysin Jan 22 '13 at 12:31
up vote 3 down vote accepted
  1. Writing "VPNs" is not strange in the least.
  2. The Recursive Acronym Syndrome Syndrome exists for a reason, so even "VPN networks" can be perfectly fine depending on how established the acronym VPN is in your domain.
  3. And of course there's nothing wrong whatsoever with writing "Virtual Private Networks".

I would go with "VPNs". Though it is good practice to expand any acronym the very first time you use it in a text.

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Ah - while you were editing... – mplungjan Jan 22 '13 at 10:50
@mplungjan sorry!))) – RegDwigнt Jan 22 '13 at 10:50
Thx for pointing out the RAS syndrome, that was a good read. :) – fgysin Jan 22 '13 at 12:36

I would write first time Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are... and then use VPNs in the rest of the text

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This is what we are told to do in my course - exactly as mplungjan has given, with the full term then abbreviations in brackets so that the reader knows what it stands for and the abbreviation, so that they know what it is when they next see it. – amanda witt Jan 28 '13 at 3:32

There are at least three classes of target audience, according to which I would chose one of the three formats.

Intra-domain readers (those belonging to the domain and entirely familiar with it):
VPNs are often employed to ...
because they know it and they hate to be told every time what a VPN stands for.

Extra-domain technical readers:
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
at first reference; VPNs in all subsequent references.

Non-technical, general or anonymous readers:
VPNs (Virtual Private Networks)
at first reference; VPN networks in all subsequent references. In this case, the tautology serves to help in hiding the technical detail (type of network) within the abbreviation while reminding the reader what it is (network). This is not incorrect and is in fact used as a convenience technique. (cf. J.R. above.)

In no case is Virtual Private Networks used repeatedly in the course of the document.

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