Say, we have a sentence like that (found on the web):

The ICAP protocol specifies extensions allowing a client to report the IP address of the client and the origin server involved in the HTTP transaction.

ICAP means "the Internet Content Adaptation Protocol". Looks like the "protocol" word is redundant here and can be safely removed, but I constantly see such cases and I am beginning to suspect that there is some reason for this. Perhaps, the "protocol" word is kept for clarity, but what if the reader already knows what the ICAP is? Should I keep the "protocol" word after the acronym through the entire text?

UPD. All acronyms found through the text are interpreted/explained in a special section of my documentation.

  • 2
    When you say "ICAP" the reader has to know or find out what that is. When you say "The ICAP protocol" the reader now knows it's a protocol. If that's a sufficient level of explanation, then I would be annoyed by having to check the glossary just because the author read a writing style guide. Feb 16 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


That is sloppy writing!

A good practice is to explain the acronym at least once at the beginning of the text, so your readers know what it means, and then use it the same way you would the full phrase that it replaces. For example:

The Internet Content Adaptation Protocol (ICAP) was proposed in late 1999 by Peter Danzig and John Schuster. The ICAP specifies extensions ...

If your text is long, it may be a good idea to repeat acronyms every now and then, for example, at the beginning of each chapter or section, or if you haven't used it for some pages, especially if the acronym is not well known or one you invented for your text:

Peter S.
Stack Exchange Questions and How to Ask Them

Chapter 1

To ask a good Stack Exchange question (SEQ), you first need to think about what you want to know. Users are irritated by vague or lazy SEQs, and won't want to help you with them. But first, let us look at what Stack Exchange (SE) is. Chapters 1 to 11 will give you an introduction to SE, then chapters 12 to 86 will focus on SEQs.

... [other chapters] ...

Chapter 12

Every Stack Exchange question (SEQ) can be up- or downvoted. There are many SEQs that receive no upvote at all.

If an acronym is globally (!) well-know, such as BMW, UK, or cm, you don't have to expand it, but if your acronym is only well-known to your expert audience, explain it at least once, because texts targeted at an expert audience are often ready by experts from related fields, journalists, and the lay public, and you don't want to be unnecessarily obscure.

If you don't explain an acronym and it is well-known, nevertheless use it as if you were writing the full unabbreviated phrase:


The UK kingdom, despite its name, had a Queen.


The UK, despite its name, had a Queen.

  • "Internet Content Adaptation Protocol" shouldn't be capitalized.
    – JRE
    Feb 16 at 11:09
  • Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. I have updated my question. All acronyms through the text are interpreted/explained in a special section of my documentation. So, the redundant "protocol" word can be omitted, right?
    – Peter S.
    Feb 16 at 11:17
  • "Internet Content Adaptation Protocol" should be capitalized - it's acronym expansion, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Content_Adaptation_Protocol.
    – Peter S.
    Feb 16 at 11:17
  • @PeterS. Internet Content Adaptation Protocol is a name. Names are proper nouns, and proper nouns are capitalized in English. But StackExchange question is not a name, so question shouldn't be capitalized. I corrected that.
    – Ben
    Feb 16 at 12:04
  • 1
    @ChthonicOne You are here on a site for intentional writing. The fundamental idea behind intentional writing – from fiction to technical writing – is that you can write anything you want, even automatic ATM machine, but you should be aware of the effect and employ it intentionally.
    – Ben
    Feb 16 at 20:16

One point not mentioned by the other answer is the use or otherwise of the definite article with the acronym. Personally (as a technical expert in the field of protocols) it sounds very weird to me to read "The ICAP specifies extensions...".

I would expect either "ICAP (Internet Content Adaptation Protocol) specifies extensions... ", or "The Internet Content Adaptation Protocol (ICAP) specifies extensions".

  • According to this comment to a question about the Use of 'the’ in front of acronyms and initialisms this will depend on the pronounciation of ICAP. Apparently you would say "the eye-see-ey-pee" but "eyecap" (the latter without "the"). So how do we pronounce it?
    – Ben
    Feb 16 at 20:04
  • 1
    @Ben I would pronounce it "eye-cap", but I am British and in my experience Americans are more likely to spell it out. However, take something like "UDP" (User Datagram Protocol) which is only ever said as "You-Dee-Pee" either side of the pond, and it would never ever have "the" in front of it. If I read something that said "The UDP specifies..." I would think it was a typo.
    – Vicky
    Feb 16 at 20:26

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