Word: Tool to create a list of abbreviatons

December 2, 2009

NOTE: Article updated 28 May 2012 to reflect v4.60

Here’s a REALLY cool tool for Word, especially if you’re working with large documents full of acronyms and abbreviations. It really comes into its own with large document sets from an organization that use many of the same acronyms throughout. For a single document — perhaps not.

I heard about Acronyms Master (http://acronyms-master.com) a few days ago. I downloaded the (4-day) trial version and tried it out on one of my client’s large documents (these docs are  200+ page reports, done in an academic style with citations and references, lists of terms, etc.). Checking acronyms and abbreviations has been a manual task while reading the document.

Acronyms Master found and listed ALL the acronyms and abbreviations in the document — in less than 10 seconds! That’s impressive.

It seems to do exactly what the marketing stuff says it will do — list all the acronyms and abbreviations, and offers definition suggestions based on a database of possible definitions. You can then choose which definition you want, modify an existing one, add your own, black list definitions you never use, white list definitions you do use, and then save your preferences back to the database for later reuse with another document or set of documents in a Project that you define. You can also go off to the web from within the application to find a different definition, as well as double-click an icon to go to the first occurrence of the acronym in the document. After you’ve selected your definitions from the list, you can then insert the Table of Acronyms into the document at a point of your choosing (or not). The use of white and black lists and project lists means that AcronymsMaster ‘learns’ your definitions.

List of suggested definitions for found acronyms (28 May 2012: interface now white, but very similar to earlier interface)

So, that’s the good.

What’s the ‘not so good’?

It doesn’t pick up other terms, such as phrases, but then, it’s not designed to do so. If the docs I’ve been working on ONLY listed acronyms and abbreviations, then this would be a killer tool. But our terms list includes lots of words and phrases that aren’t acronyms/abbreviations, so I still have to check them. However, Acronyms Master takes ALL the capitalised abbreviations out of the equation, so there’s less to check.

The Help is MUCH improved (when I first wrote this review of an earlier version back in December 2009, the Help was lacking in some important ways). Although it’s web-based Help (HTML files), these files are stored locally wherever you install the product (default: C:/Program Files/Acronyms Master/), so you don’t need to be connected to the internet to access the Help.

The website is very light on for information and instructions, though once the product is installed, the Help is useful. The website has are no screen shots, the documentation is not available for you to look at, and there are no videos showing it in use, and there’s no hint as to who the people are behind this application — just a ‘contact us’ form, no names, no addresses, no country of origin, no user forums. Nothing. I get suspicious of sites that don’t identify themselves in some way.

I can’t recall getting any option for where to install this application — it installed to C:/Program Files, whereas I like to install some software, particularly software I’m testing, onto another drive.

Both terms and definitions don’t deal well with formatting. For example, the term CO2 is ‘CO2’, and you can’t make it ‘CO2‘; likewise, you can’t italicize parts of a definition (e.g. an Act of Parliament) until after the list of acronyms has been added to the Word document. I suspect this is because the lists of terms and definitions are stored as a plain text, comma-separated value file. But what it means for the user is that they still have to check the list of acronyms inserted by AcronymsMaster and format the chemical symbols, Acts of Parliament, etc., and anything else that needs bold, italics, or super/subscripting applied to it.

One minor, but niggly, thing was that the screen display of a definition chops off the lower part of a comma, making it look like a period. This occurs in both the Search Results table and also the white, black and project lists. I had to check a definition a few times — including in the text file — to make sure that it had been correctly entered with a comma. While it’s a minor niggle, many people will only using this application occasionally, so they may have to check each time to ensure that what they see as a period is actually a comma. A tiny bit of extra line spacing in the display tables would solve that problem.

That said, I still think this is a pretty neat tool. And for US$3949 for the lite version and US$6985 for the Pro version, it’s a cheap addition to your arsenal. If it only saves you a couple of hours work, it’s paid for itself.

[Links last checked May 2012]


  1. Thanks mate. It was very handy!

  2. Looks like a useful tool that will hopefully improve as the product matures. Is there a Technical Writing equivalent of doing the dishes at a restaurant instead of paying for your meal? Maybe someone should improve the docs in return for a free license. Then again, the license cost for this product is so low that you’d only spend about an hour on it (and that’s for the Pro version if you charge contract rates)!

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