Academic Degrees, Professional Designations, and Periods

Since it’s the season of graduations, I thought it appropriate to talk about how to use academic degrees and professional designations.

Typically, abbreviations of academic degrees are written with periods after each element of the degree:

  • B.A.
  • Ph.D.
  • LL.B.
  • M.D.
  • R.N.

The term “MBA” is commonly written without periods when talking about an executive with certain training rather than the degree itself. The degree is still “M.B.A.” with the periods.

When using the degree as part of the name, do not use personal titles before the name and only use the degree when using a person’s full name:

  • Dr. John Powell, M.D. SHOULD BE John Powell, M.D.
  • Mr. John Smith, Ph.D. SHOULD BE John Smith, Ph.D.

However, other titles may precede the name when they do not convey the same meaning as the degree that follows the name:

  • Dean John Smith, Ph.D.

When two or more academic degrees follow a name, they should be listed in the order they were awarded and honorary degrees should follow earned degrees.

Professional designations are generally written without periods when used alone, but with periods when used with academic degrees:

  • Frank Brown, CPA
  • Frank Brown, B.S., M.B.A., C.P.A.
  • Kathy Sieckman, PP, PLS, ACP

List professional designations only where one’s professional qualifications are relevant to the topic under discussion. I take this to mean that when you have worked hard to earn professional certifications, they should be used whenever you are representing your profession.

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