Business abbreviations: The ultimate professional cheat sheet

An acronym is an abbreviation, or shorthand, compiled of the first letter of each word it symbolizes. For example, NASA or FIFA are two common acronyms.

While most business jargon is older than Wall Street itself, learning business slang can still be challenging when starting a new job or entering a new industry. Because of the complexity of specialized language, many industries shorten commonly used terms and phrases into acronyms.

It’s important to note that an acronym is traditionally an abbreviation that spells out a pronounceable word such as NASA, POTUS, or PETA. The examples that are listed throughout this article are technically called initialisms. However, for the sake of clarity, we’ll be using the umbrella term abbreviations.

In this article, we’re going to cover the fundamental abbreviations that are vital to mastering the language of business. Keep reading to go from grasshopper to linguist master in the corporate world.

When to use abbreviations in business communication

There are certain instances where abbreviations are appropriate in business or professional communications. In any form of writing, acronyms help to clearly articulate your message with minimal distractions. When communicating with workplace superiors, it’s important to follow best practices to avoid miscommunication.

When writing a professional business letter or emailing or speaking with superiors on staff, it’s generally a smart rule of thumb to avoid over-using abbreviations. When in doubt, it’s wise to nix the abbreviation. Still, when speaking with co-workers or other equally positioned team members, common acronyms or abbreviations are usually a safe bet.

Be careful when communicating with new hires or employees at first—they might not be up to par with the same abbreviations you are.

11 common abbreviations used in the workplace

Some abbreviations are more common or official than others, depending on the organization and its workforce slang. These are some of the most frequently used abbreviations related to general workplace dynamics and daily processes:

  • OOO – Out of office
  • EOW – End of week
  • EOD – End of day
  • COB — Close of business
  • RSVP – Please respond
  • N/A – Not applicable
  • TBD – To be decided/determined
  • ETA – Estimated time of arrival
  • NWR – Not work-related
  • Re – Referring to
  • CC – Copy to

If you can familiarize yourself with this small ensemble, you’re off to a strong start in mastering business language.

Titles and roles abbreviations

If you’re unfamiliar with the business acronyms or abbreviations for common roles in an organizational hierarchy, you might be surprised to find how many of them there are. While CEO is one abbreviation everyone might know, some of the examples below might be completely new to you:

  • CEO – Chief Executive Officer
  • CFO – Chief Financial Officer
  • CHRO – Chief Human Resources Officer
  • CIO – Chief Information Officer
  • CMO – Chief Marketing Officer
  • COO – Chief Operating Officer
  • CPA – Certified Public Accountant
  • CTO – Chief Technology Officer
  • CAO – Chief Accounting Officer
  • CSO – Chief Security Officer
  • PRO – Public Relations Officer

If you’re just starting in the corporate world or simply need a refresher, familiarizing yourself with these abbreviations will save you a lot of confusion later with your superiors.

Financial abbreviations

To better partner with a financial department, you’ll build a bridge of trust by demonstrating you understand their lens. Here are some frequently seen examples:

  • ACCT – Account
  • ACR – Accrual
  • AGI – Adjusted gross income
  • CPU – Cost per unit
  • AP – Accounts payable
  • AR – Accounts receivable
  • BS – Balance sheet
  • EPS – Earnings per share
  • ROA – Return on assets
  • ROE – Return on equity
  • ROI – Return on investment
  • P/E – Price to earnings ratio
  • P&L – Profit and loss
  • OC – Opportunity Cost
  • YTD – Year to date
  • FIFO – First in, first out
  • LIFO – Last in, first out

Human resources abbreviations

Additionally, getting acquainted with HR abbreviations like HR can be a great support throughout your career.

  • ATS – Applicant tracking system
  • COLA – Cost of living adjustment
  • CTO – Compensatory time off
  • EE – Employee
  • IRA – Individual retirement account
  • LOA – Leave of absence
  • LWP – Leave without pay
  • LTD – Long-term disability
  • MQs – Minimum qualifications
  • PR – Performance review
  • PTO – Paid time off
  • QR – Quarterly review
  • WC – Workers’ compensation
  • FT – Full-time
  • PT – Part-time

Marketing and sales abbreviations

The marketing and sales world is filled with abbreviations to learn. See common marketing abbreviations you’ll see below:

  • B2B – Business to business
  • B2C – Business to consumer
  • BR – Bounce rate
  • CPC – Cost per click
  • CTA – Call to action
  • CTR – Click-through rate
  • CR – Conversion rate
  • CRM – Customer relationship management
  • KPI – Key performance indicator
  • PPC – Pay per click
  • SaaS – Software as a service
  • SEO – Search engine optimization
  • SMP – Social media platform
  • SMB – Small to medium business
  • SME – Small to medium enterprises
  • QC – Quality control
  • QA – Quality assurance

Technical abbreviations

If the business world is packed to the brim with abbreviations, the world of technology in business is an entire mountain to climb. From computer terminology to abbreviations for commonly used applications and interfaces, here are common technical terms to master:

  • API – Application program interface
  • CSS – Cascading style sheet
  • IP – Internet protocol
  • ISP – Internet service provider
  • LAN – Local area network
  • DNS – Domain name system
  • XML – Extensible markup language
  • UI – User interface
  • UX – User experience
  • IT – Information technology
  • RSS – Rich site summary
  • AI – Artificial intelligence
  • VPN – Virtual private network
  • HTML – Hypertext markup language
  • CMS – Content management system

Learning what each of these items actually does might be another story, but learning their abbreviations is an effective first step to becoming comfortable in this complicated world.

Legal abbreviations

Most organizations deal with legal teams and legal jargon all the time—the bigger the organization, the more compliance must be adhered to. Here are common legal terms to better communicate with a legal department:

  • HQ – Headquarters
  • Inc. – Incorporated
  • IPO – Initial public offering
  • LBO – Limited buyout
  • Ltd. – Limited company
  • LLC – Limited liability corporation
  • LLP – Limited liability partnership
  • TOS – Terms of service
  • BR – Bankruptcy
  • EE – Employee
  • ER – Employer
  • CSR – Corporate social responsibility

Email abbreviations and informal workplace slang

In the corporate world, email is one of the most-used methods of communication in a workplace, and where abbreviations will be the most used. Abbreviations in emails and messaging are vital, and the proper way to use them might differ depending on the industry, the role, and to whom they are directed.

Using abbreviations in emails keeps them clear, concise, and quick to read, which is a commonplace practice to get good at in any job that communicates through email. You’ll find you save yourself, and others, time and energy from having to read a wordy, confusing email every time.

These are some common abbreviations used between colleagues in informal workplace communications:

  • ASAP – As soon as possible
  • IMO – In my opinion
  • LMK – Let me know
  • NVM – Nevermind
  • TLDR – Too long, didn’t read
  • FYI – For your information
  • POC – Point of contact
  • AFK – Away from the keyboard
  • AEAP – As early as possible
  • BTW – By the way
  • WOM – Word of mouth

If you know the who, what, when, where, why, and how of these common abbreviations, you can rest easy with every communication you receive and send.

Improving communication in the workplace

Remembering this absolute mountain of abbreviations can be a lot to handle. If you’re entering the world of the workplace for the first time, it can be especially challenging. However, meeting this challenge head-on will save you so much confusion and strife in your everyday workflow.

Communication is key in any organization, whether you’re in person, hybrid, or completely remote—you’re going to have to talk to someone at some point about something, and odds are, they’re going to know what they’re talking about. The question is, will you?

Communication is crucial to sustaining an engaged and productive workforce, and understanding how business abbreviations and workplace jargon affects team alignment might be the difference between a day sweating at your desk with every ping of your email inbox or taking the day by storm and handling that initiative yourself.

Which day would you rather have?