Punctuation style for all-caps acronyms for accessbility?

I noticed that @jflory7 writes acronyms like F.C.A., D.E.I. or F.P.L., with a period after each letter. To my knowledge, every common style guide except the New York Times (and… I think the NYT has some time recently dropped them too). Justin explained that it helps screen readers know to not try to pronounce the acroynm as a word.

That’s a good justification, but if we decide to do that, I think we should be consistent. I notice our own style guide does not address this directly — but does use “VM”, “RHEL”, “FOSS”.

I’d like to hear from someone using a screenreader — does this help? Should we do this? My gut feeling is that since it’s not common, screenreaders probably mostly know how to deal with this as well. One quick search noted that a popular screenreader understands caps and reads each letter separately without periods, and if there are periods, they get read out loud – “ef period see period ay period”, which seems counterproductive. But that’s not a comprehensive survey or anything, and I don’t know how up to date the information is…

I.I.R.C., the rule is that if it isn’t pronounced as a word, you should use a period after each letter to denote as such. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is written as NASA, whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation is written as F.B.I.

This makes the difference between initialisms and acronyms much clearer in writing.

For what’s worth, in all of the accessibility things that I’ve heard from Mastodon like capitalizing words in hashtags and using alt text to describe images, I haven’t come across comments for using punctuation for acronyms.

I could imagine that software that knows how to pronounce words could be written to recognize popular pronounced acronyms like NASA and go back to pronouncing each letter of an acronym when that is not available. I can even imagine a setting that lets you highlight a word to say “pronounce as a word instead of by letter”. But whether that actually I don’t know.

There is not a “the rule”, because punctuation is a matter of chosen style rather than grammar. Most style guides that I am aware of (MLA, AP, APA, Chicago) do not suggest periods between letters even in the “spell it out” case.

We could choose this if we want, though. My main priorities here (in order):

  1. Do the right thing for a11y
  2. Be consistent in our own docs
  3. Be reasonably consistent with most common usage

I’m quite confident about the third point — putting periods in all-caps acronyms is unusual and looks quaintly antique to me. It’s also evident that almost all of our existing docs omit periods — we don’t usually write “F.P.L.”

But I am unsure about the first item.

Well, I was referring to the N.Y.T. style that you referenced in the post before mine.

Ah, thanks. Context is key. :classic_smiley:

The NYT (or N.Y.T.) seems to be an outlier here — they are quirky in a number of ways. But I don’t mind also being quirky if it is the right thing to do!

Well, I think there is a rule, the 'period after an abbreviation‘ rule. So the F.C.A.would be correct, wouldn’t it?

But right, it feels a bit old school and vintage.

I ask about this on Mastodon and I got two responses so far. According to their bio, one person is an accessibility specialist and the other person is blind. Both suggest sticking to using just the letters and not using periods. The software tends to understand that the term should be read as letters and it seems like it can be adjusted in settings.


Personally, as a blind user myself, I’d stick with maybe all caps, but no periods.


Thanks for your input and welcome to the forum!

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I am a blind screenreader user as well. There are many ways how you can configure screenreader - you can have it configured to read punctuation but some user prefer to turn it off. Then the synthesis comes into play - some voice synthetizers have built in dictionaries which already understand some abbreviations. Moreover, custom dictionaries can be usually added on the level of synthesis as well as on the level of screenreader.
This is just to give you context.
My personal opinion is that dots should not be used, e.g. I prefer FBI against F.B.I.
In this particular case, the abbreviation is pronounced correctly (Espeak synthesis shipped in F36, Czech voice).
CIA, however, is not pronounced correctly by the Czech voice, but it is by the English US voice… so you see.
I have pronunciation of punctuation turned on since I often code at work. And having dots pronounced is definitely more disturbing. If I am not sure about some abbreviation, I can always move by word / by character and read it character by character. But this does not happen often for me.


Thanks all for the insights shared here. I learned something new. :slightly_smiling_face: So, I’ll refrain from punctuated acronyms going forward.

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Yes, all-caps abbreviations work best. Using capitalization can also help people understand technical terms more completely. For example, a dictionary for a synthesizer (text-to-speech engine), makes “initramfs” sound like “init ram fs.” Without the dictionary, it just sounds like “initrahmfs.” ESpeak-NG, on Fedora, says it more like the latter. But, if you capitalize Ram (or even better, RAM) and FS, so, “InitRamFS”, it then gets the meaning across that it’s the “initial RAM filesystem,” rather than “Oh well this is just some other technical term so just kinda glide over it.” At least, to me it helps. Maybe other blind people don’t care as much about it. It make be good to run docs through ESpeak to hear how they’ll be read, or work with the ESpeak-NG community to get them read correctly.


Thanks for this feedback and the great idea, @devinprater.