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In a technical role at work we use many three letter acronyms to describe 'things' that we work with or processes that we follow. When writing these up, I'm unclear if capitals should be used or not. There's some discussion about whether these 'things' should be considered as proper nouns or not.

For example we carry out an impact assessment. There is a specific document or artifact which is the 'Impact Assessment' document, which has a commonly understood meaning and which is often abbreviated as IA.

As such, when writing a process document describing this should I refer to the impact assessment document, or the Impact Assessment document? I think the former, as it is not a proper noun, but would appreciate guidance. I'm in the UK, if that makes any difference.

So far, two answers with different advice, with same upvotes. I'm tempted to go with capitalisation, as it does seem to help people draw a distinction between names of documents and the surrounding text, even though it feels incorrect to me.

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3 Answers 3

If it's not a proper noun, don't capitalise (unless in a title, or the first word at the start of a sentence.)

For example, the Wikipedia impact assessment entry begins:

Impact assessment (IA) is "a process aimed at ...

Further, their acronym and initialism entry says:

The expansion is typically given at the first occurrence of the acronym within a given text, for the benefit of those readers who do not know what it stands for. The capitalization of the original term is independent of it being acronymized, being lowercase for a term such as frequently asked questions (FAQ) but uppercase for a proper name such as the United Nations (UN).

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I thought of FAQ immediately. Thank you for finding a source to cite with that example. –  JLG Jun 11 '12 at 13:24
    
As a reader, especially in cases where an acronym or initialism ignores some words of a phrase, I find it often helpful if those words are capitalized at the point where the term is introduced. "Bob was showing Joe the TTOT (This, That, or the Other Thing)." Some other form of typographical distinction might be more appropriate than capitalization (perhaps underlining, since neither bold nor italic would really fit the bill), but capitalization is hardly unclear. –  supercat Oct 1 at 18:53

Capitalization has the advantage of making the item stand out and if that is what is required then it might make sense to use it. There are arguments to be made both for and against, but the main points are to do whatever is likely to make your text easier for your readers and to be consistent in your choice. It would be a good idea for your organization to agree on a house style covering such questions.

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good point. Am investigating about the house style guide –  Kris C Jun 18 '12 at 18:36

The titles of forms can be written in title case, irrespective of whether they are considered proper nouns. From an IRS publication:

To know how much federal income tax to withhold from employees’ wages, you should have a Form Withholding W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, on file for each employee.

I also found this guidance buried within a university's style guide:

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