Abbreviations are tricky because you don’t want your writing to look like alphabet soup, but you also don’t want to insult or confuse your reader by spelling out things that commonly are known by their abbreviated titles.
In general, you should avoid abbreviations on first reference unless you’re certain the majority of your readership would recognize quickly what you’re referencing, according to the Associated Press Stylebook.
Acceptable abbreviations include NFL, NBA and FBI.
Think of your audience first when considering whether to use an abbreviation. For example, if you write for a student publication, it’s unlikely that you need to spell out your university’s full name on first reference. Instead, you probably will relate better to your audience if you use the school’s abbreviation on every reference.
If in doubt, it’s probably better to spell out the name on first reference. Do not include the abbreviation in parenthesis after the name. Instead, just use the abbreviation on second reference.
One last word of advice: Be careful not to use multiple abbreviations in the same story. If you needed to, for example, reference the NFL and the FBI in the same story, you could call the NFL “the sports group” or “the football league” on second reference and the FBI “the bureau” on second reference.
If it’s necessary to use more than one abbreviation in the same story, be sure it’s apparent to the reader which agency you’re referencing. Also, make sure you spread out the abbreviations so they’re not bumping together in sentences.
Now go forth and use words (or abbreviated words) correctly!