By Judy Vorfeld
Have you ever wondered how to use titles in letters, press releases, and other documents? Especially when there are unusual circumstances? Like writing to a husband and wife, and the wife is the one with special credentials? There are different protocols.
ARTICLES AND PRESS RELEASES What you use, and when, depends on what you’re writing, e.g., if you’re an American journalist following the Associated Press Stylebook, you’d probably write “Vorfeld said that…” rather than “Ms. Vorfeld said that…” Sometimes small community newspapers still prefer to use “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Ms.”
AP also says formal titles are capitalized when they’re used immediately before one or more names, e.g., Pope Paul, President Washington, Vice Presidents John Jones and William Smith. Formal titles generally denote a scope of authority, professional activity or academic accomplishment so specific that the designation becomes “almost as much an integral part of an individual’s identity as a proper name itself: President Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Dr. Marcus Welby, Pvt. Gomer Pyle.”
CORRESPONDENCE If you know the woman or man, and s/he has no special titles, you’d say Dear Mr., Dear Mrs., Dear Ms., or Dear Miss. Many women have a preference, and these days it’s rarely “Miss” or “Mrs.” If you don’t know the preference, use Ms.
What about sending correspondence to John and Jane Doe? John is a teacher, and Jane is a physician. If you know them well, address it to John and Jane Doe, or Jane and John Doe. However, if the letter is formal, list sthem on separate lines when the wife alone has a special title:
John Doe Jane Doe, M.D. Address goes here
In the salutation, you’d say, “Dear Mr. Doe and Dr. Doe:”
Generally, physicians prefer the title like this: John Jones, M.D. — and if it’s tied in to correspondence, they want it followed by the salutation, “Dear Dr. Jones…”. Those with Ph.D. degrees are much the same, although they may prefer “Dr. George Smith” to “George Smith, Ph.D.” Never use both the degree and the title together (Dr. John Jones, M.D.).
Some titles may precede the name as long as they don’t convey the same meaning as the degree that follows (see paragraph above). Example: Professor George Smith, Ph.D.
Osteopaths, chiropractors, dentists, etc., may prefer to be addressed as Dr. Jane Jones. Others may prefer this format: Jane Jones, D.O., D.C., or D.D.S., etc. If in doubt, put the credential initials after the name in the address section, and use “Dear Dr. Jones…” in the salutation.
What about people that use two degrees or credentials after their names, and one of the credentials doesn’t use periods (like CPA) while the other does? The Gregg Reference Manual, Ninth Edition, says that using “John Doe, CPA” is fine, but if you’re going to add M.B.A., which requires periods after each letter, you should say “John Doe, M.B.A., C.P.A.
Be consistent within a document. If you abbreviate something a certain way, continue to do so in that document. You’ve essentially selected a style.
Here are some special URLS to help you with more detailed questions about titles: