Are there any general rules or guidelines for how to create abbreviations of a word when there isn't any established abbreviations of it already?

Context: I'm writing an article in which I have to abbreviate the word "questionnaire" (it's going to appear in a figure and have to be cut down to size) and I just don't want to wing it if there actually is a more or less proper way to do it.

  • Could you use "survey" instead? It's a shorter word with a similar meaning
    – Waggers
    Aug 18, 2011 at 14:58
  • @Waggers I don't think that word would be appropriate since this describes a certain part of an experiment when the subjects were handed questionnaires. It doesn't feel right to put in survey in this case.
    – Speldosa
    Aug 18, 2011 at 16:13
  • You should definitely just drop all the vowels: "qstnnr"
    – wfaulk
    Aug 18, 2011 at 18:42

1 Answer 1


all-acronyms.com states that "Quest" can be used as an abbreviation for "Questionnaire".

I have seen this used before, though the word "quest" has an entirely different meaning then questionnaire does, so I generally avoid trying to abbreviate the word so that there is no confusion.

But in the context that you are using it (in a figure), perhaps if you labeled it as "quest." it would be suitable.

When in doubt, spell it out.

As for general rules, Wikipedia has the following:

If the original word begins with a capital letter, so should the abbreviation. (ex. Volume = Vol.) If the original word begins in lowercase, capitalization is not needed.

The use of periods differs between British English and American English.

  • In British English, according to Hart's Rules, the general rule is that abbreviations terminate with a full stop (period), whereas contractions do not.
    Doctor (contraction) = Dr
    Professor (abbreviation) = Prof.
    The Reverend (contraction or abbreviation) = Revd or Rev.
    The Right Honourable (contraction and abbreviation) = Rt Hon.

  • In American English, the period is usually added if the abbreviation might otherwise be interpreted as a word, but some American writers choose not to use one.

To form the plural of an abbreviation, a number, or a capital letter used as a noun, simply add a lowercase s to the end. (ex. Mind your Ps and Qs.)

To indicate the plural of the abbreviation of a unit of measure, the same form is used as in the singular. (ex. 1 min or 20 min.)

  • This pretty much solves my problem, but I guess it isn't an answer to my main question about general rules or guidelines.
    – Speldosa
    Aug 18, 2011 at 16:14
  • I found some rules and guidelines which I included above. Hope they help.
    – RGW1976
    Aug 18, 2011 at 17:10
  • Historical usage used to add apostrophes with uppercase letters as well. As and Is can easily be mistaken for words if they are not.
    – supercat
    Aug 28, 2014 at 21:52

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