In the application I am working on there is many units of measurement. The units of measurement refer to the quantity or amount of items you have in your list. On one list a user could have one item that is in millimeters and another in Square Centimeters. There are about 20 different types of units that can be used on different items within the system.

I was wondering if it would be clearer to the user to write out the entire unit of measure for example pounds vs lbs. or centimeters vs cm. There are some units of measure in the system that are universal and recognizable to users. However, there are other ones like a dozen, pallet, yards etc. that have less universal abbreviations and would be completely unrecognizable to users.

Would it be best to use the ones that are recognizable abbreviations and use the full label for the ones that are not? Or do I stay consistent and use the full labels for all of the units of measure?

  • 3
    Use recognisable abbreviations. Full labels for one that aren't as recognisable. Do the same for ambiguous units. Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 18:32
  • @varunyellina you should really submit this as an answer
    – Tin Man
    Commented Feb 10, 2018 at 0:40

5 Answers 5


I'd suggest that you provide information in both of the 2 major systems of measurement: English and Metric, plus counts where appropriate.

Using indefinite measures, e.g. pallets is not going to provide enough information, because they vary in size and loading. For that case and similar cases, you should indeed provide a numeric rather than group ("144" rather than "12 dozen") count as well as weights and dimensions in both systems, all of which will be needed for one reason or another.

If you want to reduce the amount of screen real estate consumed, provide an option to choose English or Metric metrics and a level of precision (0.0,0.00,0.000 etc)

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    Using 'vague' terms like pallet is quite common in transport. You expect people on a forklift to check how many boxes of ballpoints, staplers, and other assorted items are on a pallet? Nah; the supplier makes a shipping manifest in packages and in pallets, the transporter checks the paller count, the buyer checks the complete manifest. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 11:43
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    "English and Metric"? Because 35mm and 15kg aren't English? Do you mean US Customary / Standard/ Imperial? Commented Dec 11, 2017 at 18:18

Check the NIST style guide for scientific units. NIST Style guide

It contains few other recommendations regarding units and their proper use. Also, if you decide to mix metric and English, choose one system as default, and add parenthesis to the second, ie, 1cm (0.39")


Use recognisable abbreviations. Full labels for ones that aren't as recognisable. Do the same for ambiguous units.


In my opinion, lbs, cm, km, kg, kTn etc. look tidier and more professional, but it should really depend on your user. How educated your user is?

I have met some people with Masters Degrees in computer science who had no idea what "ms" meant.

  • Well, to them it obviously means Master of Science ;) Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 10:44
  • @VitalyMijiritsky hehe! I see what you did there :) Commented Sep 17, 2016 at 11:15

It would be helpful to understand the context in which this is being used. Are users expected to use this 100x a day? Is this a simple web form? Is this a software application? Who is using this, specialized users?

Perhaps you could explore providing both unit abbreviation + full length at the same time.. And then there's also the option of auto-complete.

To organize my suggestions:

    1) provide autocomplete for the unit input
    2) provide a full description for the unit
    3) provide a toggle to turn on/off description

[inputbox] (description) == [cm] (centimeters)

Perhaps auto-complete is out of scope for you. So here's another approach. On the backend you can reformat user input to avoid errors. For example, you can use Javascript to reformat different inputs of Centimeters Squared. Without providing the code, i'll just explain...

A user wants to input Centimeters Square. The input allows multiple formats of this: "cm2" "cm 2" "centimeters2" "centimeters 2" "square centimeters"... etc. Finally, the backend will reformat it as whatever the program has defined as the final unit: "cm2".

  • Your answer is about input, the question is only about display/output. Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 11:07

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