Editing for Grammarphobes: It's All Academic


The graduation season is upon us, with the first of universities having bestowed degrees upon their seniors this past weekend, and will remain well into June.

But, how does one cite academic degrees and honors? What about the terms for academic years? Capitalized or not? And what is to be done with honorary degrees?

The words for the four years of high school or college — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior — should be lowercased.


Joe Smith is a junior in high school.

Susie Jones completed her freshman year at Northwestern University. 

When academic degrees are referred to in general terms, they should not be capitalized. Remember to use an apostrophe for bachelor’s and master’s.


Bob has a master’s degree in chemical engineering.

Katherine has a bachelor’s degree in English. 

However, the names of academic degrees and honors “should be capitalized when following a person’s name, whether abbreviated or written in full,” according to The Chicago Manual of Style.


Pamela Gleason, Doctor of Law

Ira Mansfield, M.D. 

It is redundant to put Dr. before a person’s name and then follow it with the academic degree.


Wrong: Dr. Catherine Spark, Ph.D. 

Correct: Catherine Spark, Ph.D., a renowned Shakespearean scholar, will speak at North Central College this evening. 
Dr. Catherine Spark, a renowned Shakespearean scholar, will speak at North Central College this evening. 

Do not put Ph.D. after the name of someone who has received an honorary doctorate. It was a gift, not earned.


The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969. Print.

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Norm Goldstein, ed. Cambridge: Perseus, 2000. Print.


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