I am writing fiction.

There is a group called the Mental Health Access and Referral Team. In prose, I can either use M-HART or MHART. In dialogue, I'm a bit stumped. (I use The Chicago Manual of Style.)

I think the best way to express would be M-Hart, but The Chicago Manual of Style suggests that naming single letters should be in italics. This would put the letter "M" in italics. However, acronyms are their own category. For instance, one would not place FBI in italics for Federal Bureau of Investigations in prose or dialogue.

The other issue is that if I use M-Hart in dialogue, can I use MHART in prose (removing the hyphen)? It's more phenomenologically correct, but it creates an inconsistency (sort of).

2 Answers 2


The style I default to is the AP, whether it's a work of fiction or not I prefer its readability and clarity. In this case, dispense with the hyphen, if you explicity need your audience to pronounce it "right" (in their heads), spell that out on second ref--completely define the acronym on first ref. The exception being extremely well-known ac's, such as the IRS. Apparently MHART is not in this class.

Here is how I'd introduce the organization--

The Matriarchal Harvest Alliance for Research and Tig-welding was one of the many political coalitions Bill railed against to anyone who would listen.

"The MHART (he pronounced it "em-heart,") is a complete sham," he said. "All they do is share recipes for egg-salad and program auto-dialers to scare low-income parts of South Chicago right before general elections."


By "prose" I take it you mean "narrative". But whatever.

RE writing single letters in italics: I agree, that just doesn't apply here. I presume you're referring to their discussion about referring to letters as letters, like a teacher saying, "Now, Billy, write the letter 'M' on the blackboard." This doesn't apply to acronyms.

In general, I'd write a word the same in dialog as in narrative, unless there's some issue about pronunciation. Why would you think it should be written differently? If you were writing dialog and while MHART is usually pronounced "em-heart", one person pronounces it "muh-art", and this is relevant and makes a differences, then yes, you need to call it out. (BTW, I don't know if this is a real organization, and if so how it is normally pronounced. I'm just giving an example.) Otherwise, I just wouldn't worry about it. Even if you are recording an actual conversation and one person did pronounce it differently from the others, but it didn't matter, I just wouldn't worry about it. We usually don't worry about an occasional mis-pronounced word, differences in regional accents, etc, when recording conversations, unless they matter for some reason. Like if they caused misunderstanding, or if we want to portray someone as stupid because he continually mispronounces words, etc.

  • Thank you. I've been noticing, or trying to notice, examples from newspapers, journals, etc., and I've seen examples such as: NATO spokesperson Bob Smith said, "Nato is now the leader in world peace." CHICAGO has no example to address this. By the way, I'm having the same trouble with MCAT for Medical College Admission Test--pretty much the exact same trouble. I suppose this is what the publisher's editor is for.
    – Stu W
    Nov 1, 2015 at 14:19

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