Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: It's Academic


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

Graduation season is almost upon us. The first universities will bestow degrees upon their seniors this weekend and will keep going well into June.

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

Before we tackle those questions, let's talk about high school.

The words for the four years of high school and 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 (CMS). CMS also recommends omitting the periods in abbreviations for academic degrees.


Pamela Gleason, Doctor of Law

Ira Mansfield, MD

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


Wrong: Dr. Catherine Spark, PhD

Correct: Catherine Spark, PhD, 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.

CMS states that academic degree designations should be set off by commas when they follow a personal name, as in the examples above.

However, do not put PhD after the name of someone who has received an honorary doctorate. It was a gift, not earned.

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These books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2017 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of the Bibliophiles series, contemporary fiction with a sprinkling of the classics, and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Anonymous said…
I always have to check whether it's "Dr" or "Dr." :) In Serbian, it's "Dr", and "dr." means something completely different.

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