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What is the easiest way to create an acronyms list as a table that may be automatically generated, such as a table of contents? I'm assuming acronyms are 3 letters or greater.

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Are you after

  • a glossary: alphabetically sorted list of acronyms with respective explanations, or
  • an index: alphabetically sorted list of terms which may be acronyms or not, which also includes the page number where the term is introduced/explained?

You can create an index which can be then updated like ToC. To do so you need (assuming Word 2010):

  1. Mark items/terms which are to be included in the index:
    • highlight the term in text
    • move to the Reference tab of the ribbon
    • click Mark Entry in the index section
    • alter the entry if you need to (e.g. you highlighted Stack Exchange but you want the index entry to say Stack Exchange (SE) - you can do that in the Main entry text box)
    • do the above for all terms you want to include
  2. Insert the index where appropriate:
    • when ready click Insert index (Reference tab of the ribbon again) while being in the appropriate place in the document
    • you can later Update index after marking more terms

Hope this helps.

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From your question, I believe there could be 2 possible scenarios:

  • Document is scanned for suitable abbreviations (e.g. all CAP, min 3 letters), then generate a table listing them. You could then manually add their definitions in one turn.
  • Define each abbreviation along the way as you use them in the document, then let Word auto generate the table, listing them with their defined meaning.

Scenario 1: I don’t really know any reliable method. There are all kinds of abbreviation, short/long, capitalized/not capitalized, with/without dot, etc. My point is, I don’t trust that, any algorithm can detect all those forms. So no idea here, but if you decide to go with…

Scenario 2: Index table

Originally, index table is used to list out keywords, to keep track where they appear in the document, and not for abbreviations, so there are supposed to be disadvantages here – more on that later.

So as I mentioned, let’s say you are writing the document, then you use the abbreviation ‘etc’. You can do as followed:

  • Highlight etc
  • Go to References on the ribbon, and Mark Entry (or Shift + Alt + X)
  • In Mark Index Entry window, check Cross-reference, delete the preset word See, and type ‘et cetera’
  • Press Mark, you can close the window.

Continue with your document, and with other abbreviations.

You would notice that Word’s code markings for the index show up inline. These would not be there when you print out the document (unless you specifically choose to print markings) so just ignore them; OR if you are such a format fanatic like me and have to get rid of them, just to Home on the ribbon and click on the paragraph icon ¶. You might also have to delve into Word’s Options / Display and uncheck Hidden text.

Eventually you want to create the table: Go to References again, and Insert Index. A window pops up; this is what you need:

  • Check Right align page numbers
  • Tab leader: (none)
  • Formats: From template
  • Columns: 1
  • Click on Modify
  • Modify the Index 1

I would suggest you modify Paragraph and Tabs from the Format button on the bottom left of the window.

Let’s set Paragraph, Left Indent to 3 cm; for Tabs, type 7 cm and Set, remember to check Leader: none.

OK and confirm all settings and you should have the table in place.

Pros and Cons: Like everything else, there are always 2 sides.

This method gives you the automatic table of abbreviations, in alphabetical order. Problem is, the definition of those abbreviations cannot be made non-italic, due to the format of the system. You will have to manually turn off italic afterward.

You can also not separate the format of abbreviations and their definitions, since they belong to the same class.

But at least it works and we have a decent result. Have fun!

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There are online services such as acromatic.uk that will collate a list of the acronyms that you've used in your Word document, for you to add back into your document.

For that site, you would go through the following process:

  1. Choose how you want to define an acronym (e.g. minimum length, can it contain numbers)

  2. Upload your Word document

  3. You'll be given a sorted list of the acronyms used that can be pasted back into your report. You will have to provide definitions yourself.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this route, compared to adapting features that are native to Word (see other answers for these).

Benefits:

  1. It is much harder to miss out any acronyms, because you don't have to mark them yourself in the text -- the site will find everything.

  2. You don't have to do anything while you are writing the document, only at the end (which may be good if other people are contributing to a report).

Downsides:

  1. You have to define every acronym yourself at the end. This may cause various problems, not least that you can't add to your document, click a button and regenerate an updated acronym list automatically.

  2. The site may well pick up strings of letters that you don't intend as acronyms, which you'll have to delete.

  3. As with any service on the internet, consider the security implications of uploading anything sensitive.

Full disclosure: I wrote acromatic.uk (and have read this).

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