Acronyms Can Reinforce Or Negate Your Message’s Success

“The key test for an acronym is to ask whether it helps or hurts communication.”
– Elon Musk

Acronyms are a mainstay of technical and scientific fields because they make communication more concise and efficient. In biology and medicine, they are pervasive in both written and oral communication and the COVID pandemic has popularized certain acronyms such as PCR (“polymerase chain reaction”), mRNA (“messenger ribonucleic acid”) and the WHO (“World Health Organisation”) to the point of making them commonplace in everyday conversation.

Clinical trial branding, which is one of our areas of expertise at Six Degrees, is often associated with the use (and some would argue overuse) of acronyms. We wanted to provide some background to this phenomenon and suggest that while they are portrayed as commonplace in the clinical trial field, there is still plenty of room for innovation. Moreover, there is simply more to naming a trial than choosing a catchy string of letters.

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A surprisingly large body of research exists around the use of acronyms1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in the titles of clinical trials. According to the literature, acronyms initially entered the titles of scientific studies and trials in the early 1970s. The practise has obviously become more prevalent (trendy?) in subsequent years to the point where resources exist that attempt to track and list those in use6. While it may seem that every trial at this point must have an acronym, the data seems to suggest otherwise. A cursory look at European clinical trial data (sourced from the WHO’s ICTRP (“International Clinical Trial Registry Platform”7) shows approximately 92,000 trials registered, of which, 28,000 have related acronyms—in other words, roughly 30%. If you are a glass-half-full type, that leaves plenty of room for further innovation in the field of branding clinical trials but conversely, it also poses a challenge to continue to find unique and differentiating trial identities!

At Six Degrees, the name of a trial is built upon what we believe to be the most important elements of any identity; the patient experience of the trial and their perception of the therapy. We begin each clinical trial project by understanding several factors such as, how the patients will potentially benefit from the treatment, how they interpret the trial and associated background information as well as their current quality of life. With that foundation, our creative team extracts the key messages from the patient’s experience to start building identities that will resonate and inform that population. Ideally, the chosen name for the trial (regardless of creative strategy) will link in some way to the title of the trial, not to mention the type of therapy as well as the intended outcome. Acronyms perform that function well, but often the scientific and medical terms the letters refer to can be outside the knowledge space of the patient. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the intended audience as well as their literacy and understanding of the acronym.

We do admit that we sometimes, only when appropriate, add to that list of trial acronyms, but it represents one of several strategies we bring to each creative project. If you would like to learn more about how we could craft a meaningful name for your clinical trial identity project or simply would like to see some of our existing work, visit our website If you are preparing your trial for branding and are open to exploring outside of that acronym/initialism strategy, then we would love to hear from you and would be happy to help.

Kris Larsen
Director Client Engagement


  1. CAPTURE! SHOCK! EXCITE! Clinical Trial Acronyms and the “Branding” of Clinical Research. Berkwitts, Michael. 9, November 7, 2000, Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 133, pp. 755-759.
  2. The use of coercive trial acronyms should be discouraged. Cheng, Tsung. 2, March 26, 2012, International Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 157, pp. 157-159.
  3. SearCh for humourIstic and Extravagant acroNyms and Thoroughly Inappropriate names For Important Clinical trials (SCIENTIFIC): qualitative and quantitative systematic study. Pottegård, Anton. December 16, 2014, BMJ, Vol. 349.
  4. Acronyms Confuse Everyone: Combating the use of acronyms to describe paediatric research studies. Isles, Alan F. 10, June 6, 2014, Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, Vol. 50, pp. 756-758.
  5. Do clinical trial acronyms affect patients’ interest in clinical trials? A randomized survey. Wiebe, Meagan. 15, s.l. : American Society of Clinical Oncology, May 20, 2013, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 31, p. 6639.
  6. Gibson, Michael. Acronyms of Clinical Trial Names. [Online]
  7. International Clinical Trials Registry Platform Search Portal. World Health Organisation. [Online]
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Six Degrees
Six Degrees uses psycho-sensory tools and techniques to build more successful national and global brands. Brands are rooted in human perception. And our psycho-sensory approach is designed to identify deeper and richer insights from human perception and then develop brand communications that change suboptimal perceptions or reinforce the right perceptions. More than 80 percent of the information humans process is nonverbal, making it essential that brands manage the sensory signals they send out. Our people are passionate branding experts wielding powerful psycho-sensory tools to build stronger and more successful brands across the globe.

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