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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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Academic Degrees & Professional Designations


In this week's tip, we'll discuss the guidelines for referring to academic degrees and professional designations in your writing. Are you ready to be bombarded with tons of little letters that have big meanings?

The following rules are based on The Gregg Reference Manual, tenth edition.¹

Rule #1: Do not capitalize academic degrees when they are used as general terms of classification. However, academic degrees used after a person's name should be capitalized.


●  a bachelor of science degree ●  a bachelor's degree.
●  a master of arts degree ●  a master's degree.
●  Exception: Marie Chapman, Master of Business Administration

Rule #2: When abbreviating academic degrees and professional designations, use a period between each letter or element in the abbreviation. No internal spaces are necessary.


●  B.A.

●  B.S.

●  M.B.A.

●  B.Arch.

●  M.D.

●  R.N.

●  D.D.S.

●  Ph.D.


●  The Chicago Manual of Style now recommends omitting these periods unless they are required for tradition or consistency. 
●  The term M.B.A. is often written without periods when referring to the person holding the degree and not to the degree itself.


●  The firm is hoping to hire a Harvard MBA this spring.   
●  Shelley holds an M.B.A. from Harvard.

Rule #3: Do not use titles such as Dr., Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. before a person's name if an academic degree follows the person's name.


●  Dr. Madeline Hutton   
●  Madeline Hutton, M.D.
Not: Dr. Madeline Hutton, M.D.

Other titles may precede the person's name if they do not have the same meaning as the degree following the name.


●  Professor Curtis Jackson, Ph.D.   
●  President Kristen McGovern, M.B.A.

Rule #4: List academic degrees only after a full name, not after a last name alone.


●  Professor Curtis Jackson, Ph.D.
●  Not: Professor Jackson, Ph.D.

Rule #5:
When a person's name is followed by two or more academic degrees, list them in the order in which they were awarded. Honorary degrees should follow earned degrees. There is no specific rule for listing professional designations after a person's name. If the person's preference is unknown, professional designations can be listed alphabetically. When both academic degrees and professional designations follow a person's name, the academic degrees should be listed first.

Rule #6:
Many professional designations (such as CPA) are written without periods. However, when listing professional designations alongside academic degrees, periods should be used (assuming that you've chosen to use periods in the abbreviations of academic degrees).


●  Andrew Kaufmann, CPA     
●  Andrew Kaufmann, B.S., M.B.A., C.P.A.

Since the two well-known style guides I referenced aren't in agreement about the use of periods in the abbreviations of academic degrees, that means it's your call!  As always, consistency within each piece is key. Just pick a style, and then stick with it!

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1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. Tenth Edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 113, 153-154.

. University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th ed.  
        (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 563-564.