How to Create a List of Abbreviations in Microsoft Word
  • 3-minute read
  • 4th May 2020

How to Create a List of Abbreviations in Microsoft Word

If you’re creating a large document, such as a thesis or business report, it could contain many abbreviations. And if so, you may want to add a list of abbreviations to help the reader. But how does a list of abbreviations work? And how do you create one in Microsoft Word? Let’s find out.

Why List Abbreviations?

When introducing an abbreviation in writing, you will usually need to define it first. But in a longer document, you may use quite a lot of abbreviations. And they may be scattered throughout your writing.

In cases like this, a list of abbreviations can work as a reference point for your reader, meaning they can look up any abbreviation in one place rather than having to find where it was introduced. Typically, this list will:

  • Appear early in the document, just after the table of contents.
  • List all abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms alphabetically.
  • Define each abbreviation alongside its shortened form.

If you are using one, you may also want to check your style guide for advice on defining abbreviations and how to list them.

How to Create a List of Abbreviations in Microsoft Word

You can create a list of abbreviations manually by going through your work and noting each one down, then adding them all to a list at the start of your document. However, you can also use a combination of Microsoft Word and Excel to quickly generate a list of abbreviations.

The first step is to find all the abbreviations in your document. To do this:

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  • Go to Home > Editing > Find > Advanced Find on the main ribbon.
  • In the Find what… field, add “[A-Z,0-9]{2,}” (minus the quote marks).
  • Click the More > > button and select Use wildcards.
  • Under the Find In menu, click Main Document.
Find acronyms and initialisms.
Finding acronyms and initialisms.

This will then select all strings of capital letters and numbers in the document, which should include all acronyms and initialisms. Once you have done this, you can use Ctrl + C to copy them.

To then create your list, you will need a helping hand from Excel:

  • Open an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Paste the copied abbreviations into a column.
  • Select the column and go to Home > Editing > Sort & Filter > Sort A to Z.
  • Remove any duplicates, errors, or common abbreviations that do not need defining (e.g., TV, PC, UFO, VIP). Alternatively, you can select the column with the abbreviations and go to Data > Remove Duplicates (just remember to remove any errors or common abbreviations manually).
  • Add a new row at the top of the column titled “Abbreviation.”
  • Add a header in the next column along saying “Definition.”
  • Write the full terminology for each abbreviation in the corresponding cell.
  • Copy and paste both columns to your Microsoft Word document.
Abbreviations in Excel
Abbreviations in Excel.

You will then have a list of abbreviations and definitions ready to go!

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Comments (40)
11th February 2021 at 18:28
very helpful
4th March 2021 at 04:57
thanks. really helpful. how do I create list of symbols?
    4th March 2021 at 09:24
    Hi, Nizam. If the symbols are embedded as images, you could use "^g" (without the quote marks) to highlight them all. Unfortunately, while you can search for specific special characters and symbols in Word, I don't think there's a way to search for all symbols in the same way that you can highlight all the abbreviations in a document. As such, you might have to do it manually by simply going through the document and copying each symbol in turn.
10th March 2021 at 18:58
I've been following these directions, but it doesn't seem to be working. First, when I run it, sometimes it only picks up one or two acronyms. Then when I run it again, it sometimes picks up more, but then it is picking up loads of words that are not abbreviations. It is also picking up every string of numbers, which aren't acronyms. I tried removing the 0-9 from the code, but that doesn't seemed to have solved the first two problems, where it sometimes doesn't pick up hardly any of the acronyms, and sometimes picks up loads of things that aren't acronyms. Have others had success using this method?
    11th March 2021 at 08:50
    Hi, Dara. Sorry that you're having problems. There will often be some extra things, as well as duplicates and common abbreviations, that you need to filter out when you copy the information over to a spreadsheet, but it sounds like you're having more than just a few extra things highlighted? All we can say is that it worked when we tried it for this post (using Microsoft Office 2019 on Windows, if that helps). The inconsistency seems very strange, as it should at least pick up the same things each time if you're using the same search terms, so it might even be a bug?
    Lea Marie
    18th March 2021 at 10:51
    Hi Dara, same for me. You may try "[A-Z]{2;}". I hope this helps!
23rd March 2021 at 21:05
Hi, I have tried following this but is not working for me. I have tried "[A-Z,0-9] {2,}" and I get "The Find What text contains a Pattern Match expression which is not valid" I also tried "[A-Z,0-9] {2;}" and "[A-Z] {2;}" from reading the comment section but I get "no results found"
    24th March 2021 at 09:32
    Hi, Niamh. Have you tried removing the space from between the sets of brackets (i.e., “[A-Z,0-9]{2,}” rather than “[A-Z,0-9] {2,}”)?
    7th May 2021 at 21:27
    Thanks a lot!
31st March 2021 at 09:43
Tried this “[A-Z,0-9]{2,}” but failed to find any matching criteria. Any more help?
    31st March 2021 at 10:29
    Hi, Leekey. Sorry you're having problems. As with the other comments here, all we can really say is that the search term works for us (using MS Word 2019, in case that helps). If your copy of MS Word is working correctly and you follow the steps set out (e.g., making sure "Use wildcards" is selected), that search should find strings of capital letters and numbers that appear at least twice in the document. What kind of abbreviations are you searching for? You may be able to modify the search using other wildcards if you're searching for something else. You can find more information on wildcards here:
2nd April 2021 at 14:55
Thanks. Worked perfectly. Once in Excel, using the Data>Remove Duplicates helps to quickly eliminate the duplicates.
    2nd April 2021 at 15:07
    Thanks for the extra tip, Steve! We've added that option to the post.
22nd April 2021 at 10:30
What worked for me in Microsoft 365 Word is the below search string: “” “” - end of the word If you have abbreviations starting with numbers (e.g.: 3GPP) you can use this (but it will match all the numbers too): “” Word has kind of dumb regexp implementation and not seems to have a way to specify a character class with zero or more times ( “{0;}” is invalid, “?” and “*” don't care about the character classes ).
Stephan Platt
19th May 2021 at 16:31
Thanks - this was much better/more efficient than reading through multi-paged documents!!!
1st June 2021 at 10:04
It seems to only pick up two letter abbreviations, so it splits a four letter abbreviation into two, any fix for this?
    1st June 2021 at 16:17
    When does that happen in the process, Petter? Are you possibly missing the comma after the "2" in the curly brackets? The comma indicates "at least" in that context (e.g., "{2,}" = "at least two"), so if you just have "{2}" in your search it will only highlight two-character terms.
Amirul Anwar Mohd Solong
8th June 2021 at 06:55
Hi, What if like LiDAR? It detect only the DAR. not LiDAR
    8th June 2021 at 10:07
    Hi, Amirul. Unfortunately, the search suggestion here will miss acronyms that contain lowercase letters, but they are typically quite rare, so it should be easy enough to add them to your list manually unless you're using a lot of them in your writing (and you should always manually review your list of abbreviations when generating it like this to make sure none have been missed).
    Sumit Bhowmick
    28th December 2021 at 12:25
    Temporarily replace all such acronyms (one by one acronym, but not one-by-one instances) with all-capital acronyms Home>Editing>Replace, Do as the article says, and finally when your abbrev. table is ready, use the replace command to replace the converted all-caps acronyms to mixed acronyms
Jason Anderson
9th June 2021 at 18:02
This is so useful, BUT I found an issue - it doesn't identify abbreviations with an 's' added to indicate plural. These are quite common in some areas (e.g. education - TLMs = teaching/learning materials). Thus, a second search also needs to be conducted, adding an 's': [A-Z,0-9]{2,}s
23rd June 2021 at 08:07
It was really helpful. Thank you so much
8th October 2021 at 11:42
I have problems using this trick. Word always gives me the error "The Find What text contains a Pattern Match expression which is not valid". Does someone know a fix? Thanks in advance
    8th October 2021 at 12:04
    Hi, Fabian. I assume the error only occurs when you've got the "Wildcards" option selected? Searching online, it might be related to your wider computer settings (e.g., if you're using a language other than English as the main language on your computer or you have a different setup for search operators). However, this isn't an error we have experienced so it is hard to offer advice based on the error text alone. Your best option might be to check with Microsoft support.
    21st November 2021 at 09:25
    For other regional settings try [A-Z;0-9]{2;}
      28th December 2022 at 21:22
      It works. Thanks a lot.
Deonel Kyle Matutina
8th November 2021 at 01:48
Give me an example of table of abbreviation
    9th November 2021 at 12:31
    Hi, Deonel. Can you clarify what you mean? It would be fine to present a list of abbreviations in tabular form, if that's what you mean. The instructions here would still help you extract the abbreviations from your document in that case.
24th March 2022 at 13:12
Hi Is it possible to highlight the abbreviation (acronym) ONLY at its very first use in MS Word? It means, if WHO is mentioned 20 times in a word document, I want the first WHO appearing in the text to be highlighted with a color where it is written as World Health Organization (WHO). The purpose is very simple that any abbreviation (acronym) should be expanded at its first usage and not required to be expanded thereafter. Please help with me with the right tip using MS Word. Thanks in advance Rajesh
    24th March 2022 at 15:45
    Hi, Rajesh. Are you asking how to highlight a single word or phrase in a document? If so, you can just use the regular highlight tool: I hope that helps, but let us know if I've misunderstood your question. And don't forget that you can submit a document to our editors if you'd like more direct assistance.
4th April 2022 at 11:19
very useful! thank you
Esther Deaton Rocha
20th April 2022 at 04:00
I have the list of abbreviation done. The problem is for me: I want to be able to link the times they're used throughout the document to the time it's defined in the abbreviation chart. I thought maybe I'd used an "index," but I don't think that will work. Help?
    20th April 2022 at 09:57
    Hi, Esther. Do you mean adding a literal hyperlink in each abbreviation to its entry in the list of abbreviations? This wouldn't usually be necessary (and could look untidy if there are a lot of abbreviations in your writing), but if you want to do something like that, then you could use the bookmark tool in MS Word, which will let you mark specific terms as "bookmarks" and then link to them elsewhere in the text.
21st April 2022 at 15:37
I am not able to copy the found abbreviations using CTRL+C. I am using WIN10 and Microsoft 365.
    22nd April 2022 at 08:29
    Hi, Ulli. Control + C is the default shortcut for copying anything in Windows, so I'm not sure why it wouldn't work (assuming you haven't changed the shortcuts otherwise). Have you tried right clicking and selecting "Copy" from the menu instead?
      5th May 2022 at 17:46
      I'm also unable to copy & paste (Ctrl+C), using WIN10 and Microsoft 365. Right-clicking also isn't possible. Is there a different way to highlight and copy?
      6th May 2022 at 10:58
      Hi, Noa. I've tested this in Word 365 on Windows 10 and both methods of copying work for us, so if they're not working for you it sounds like an error. Have you tried asking on the Microsoft support forums at all? Or have you double checked the procedure (e.g., you mention "highlight and copy," but it is the "Find in..." menu you need to use in the Advanced Find pop-up, not the "Reading Highlight" one, in case that is the problem you've been having)?
      17th August 2022 at 22:41
      Ulli, be sure to select "Find In" menu and click "Main Document". It didn't work for me either until I did this.
12th April 2023 at 07:29
I'm not sure this would work for abbreviations with symbols, like P&A. or J-T, how can this be included?
    21st April 2023 at 11:53
    Hi, Larry. For those examples, you just include an ampersand and a hyphen in the instructions you put in the Find what field, so “[A-Z,0-9,&,-]{2,}” (minus the quote marks, and make sure there are no spaces around the commas).

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