What is the The Complete Guide to Using Formal Titles in AP Style? When most people think about formal titles, they usually imagine people in positions of power, such as a CEO or president. However, many other professions use formal titles as well. Lawyers, teachers, and even doctors have specific titles that are used to identify them professionally. If you’re not sure how to use formal titles in AP Style, don’t worry! This guide will explain everything you need to know.
General Guidelines: The Complete Guide to Using Formal Titles in AP Style
In general, you should use a formal title when you are writing for a professional or academic audience. This means using the full and official title, such as “President Barack Obama” or “Dr. Jane Smith.” However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If the person’s title is too long or cumbersome, you can use an abbreviated form, such as “Gov. John Doe” or “Prof. Smith.”
You can also choose to use a courtesy title, such as “Mr. Obama” or “Ms. Smith,” if it is appropriate for your audience and if the person has requested that you do so. In general, however, it is best to use a person’s formal title when writing in a professional or academic context.
Titles of People
The general rule is to use the title before the person’s name on first reference and to omit the title on second reference. You would, of course, use the title if it’s part of the person’s name (“Bishop T.D. Jakes”). If a woman has chosen not to use her husband’s surname, follow her preferences.
On subsequent references to people who are identified by their titles, use only their last names. When in doubt about a particular title, consult Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). It includes abbreviations for most titles. Here are some other specific guidelines:
- Do not use Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss unless the person’s preference is unknown or unclear. The same goes for Dr.; when in doubt, spell out doctor on first reference and use only the last name on second reference.
- Never refer to someone as Mr. or Mrs./Ms./Miss followed by his or her first name on second reference; either recast the sentence or identify the person by his or her last name alone.
- When a male is identified by his title alone, use Mr., even on second reference: Mr. Simpson, he said.
- If he has a professional title that is used more often than Mr., use only the professional title on all references: The senator said he would vote against the bill; Simpson said he would vote against it too.
- But if Simpson also uses Mr., alternate and recast as needed: The senator said he would vote against the bill; Simpson, a longtime opponent of such legislation, said he would vote against it too. Or: Senator Simpson said he would vote against the bill; Mr. Simpson said he would vote against it too.
When there is doubt about whether someone prefers being addressed as Dr., use only the person’s last name on all references after an introductory paragraph that identifies him or her by full name and title(s). These rules also apply when a woman uses a courtesy title that is higher ranking than Mrs.:
- Queen Elizabeth II
- Princess Diana Spencer
- Duchess of Windsor
- journalist Ladybird Johnson
- newspaper publisher Katherine Graham
- pediatrician Jean Macarthur
- psychologist Anna Freud
- novelist Edith Wharton – but never more than one courtesy at once (Princess Diana Spencer but never Princess Diana Spencer, Duchess of Windsor).
When addressing envelopes and introducing people formally by title and last name at events such as dinners and balls, spell out long titles: His Excellency Ambassador Jones instead of Ambassador Jones (although note that it is still possible to abbreviate ambassador in plain text).
Titles of Groups and Corporations
When titling groups: Lowercase the word “the” unless it is the first or last word of the title. For corporations titles, capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four letters or more. When a corporation includes a designator in its name, such as Inc., LLC or Ltd., that designator is not capitalized unless it is the first or last word of the corporate name.
- He works for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
- He’s on the board of directors for Toyota Motor Corp.
When a company uses “&” instead of “and”, do not use a comma before it:
- Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Use all caps when using an acronym before spell out name:
- NAACP, but never IMAX.
They also say to use lowercase when introducing someone from ACLU:
- American Civil Liberties Union executive director Nicoletti Jones will discuss free speech on college campuses.
Follow the correct style for drug names when writing about them:
- Percocet and etcetera.
Titles of Written Works
In general, you should capitalize the first word, all nouns, all verbs (including To Be), all adjectives, and all proper nouns. That means you should lowercase articles (a, an, the), coordinate conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet), and prepositions (such as in, of, to).
- For example: The Notorious B.I.G., “Ready to Die” Don’t do it: “Biggie Smalls,” “Ready to Die Album.”
When it comes to AP style books titles, always use italics. If a book is part of a series, put the title of the series in regular type and the title of the book in italics:
- He’s reading The Hunger Games, part of the popular dystopian science fiction trilogy.
If you’re unsure whether something should be italicized, check the AP Stylebook.
Other Types of Titles
In general, capitalize the first word, the last word and all major words in titles of books, movies, songs, television shows, etc. This rule also applies to subtitles. For example:
- The Catcher in the Rye
- Gone with the Wind
- “A Day in the Life”
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Articles (“a”, “an”, “the”), prepositions (e.g., “on”, “in”, “by”) and conjunctions (e.g., “and”, “or”) are not considered major words and should not be capitalized unless they are the first or last word in the title. For example:
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes
- An American in Paris
Short words such as articles and prepositions should not be capitalized if they are not the first or last word in a title. For example:
- “The Man who was Thursday” (not “The Man Who Was Thursday”)
- Les Misérables (not les Miserables).
When deciding whether or not to capitalize a word in a title, err on the side of caution and go with the standard capitalization rules unless you are certain that the word should be lowercase. For example: When in Doubt, Use Capital Letters!
Italics or Quotation Marks
In writing, sometimes we need to use formal titles. Should we italicize them or put them in quotation marks? The answer, surprisingly, is both. It depends on which style guide you’re using. AP style is specific: For books and movies, use italics. For songs and TV shows, use quotation marks. Easy, right? There’s a little more to it than that, though. Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s the rule for books:
1. Italicize the title of the book when you refer to it in the body of your paper. For example, I’m reading a great book called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Easy enough. But what about when you’re just mentioning the title in passing? In that case, you can put the title in quotation marks: Have you read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? I have; it’s hilarious.
2. The rule for movies is similar: Use italics when you’re referring to the movie in the body of your paper, and use quotation marks when you’re just mentioning the title in passing. So if you’re writing about The Shawshank Redemption, you would write: I loved The Shawshank Redemption; it’s one of my favorite movies. But if you’re just making small talk, you might say: Have you seen The Shawshank Redemption? It’s a great film.
3. Let’s talk about songs and TV shows. The rule here is the opposite of what it is for books and movies: Use quotation marks when you’re referring to the song or TV show in the body of your paper, and use italics when you’re just mentioning the title in passing. So if you’re writing about Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance,” you would write: I can’t get Lady Gaga’s song “Bad Romance” out of my head. It’s so catchy! But if you’re just making conversation, you might say: Did you see that episode of Glee where they sang “Bad Romance”? It was great.
4. When in doubt, remember this general rule of thumb: If something is published as its own standalone work (like a book or a movie), then it should be italicized. If something is part of a larger work (like a song or an episode of a TV show), then it should be put in quotation marks. That covers most cases, but there are always exceptions (like when AP style says otherwise).
So if you’re ever unsure whether to italicize or put something in quotation marks, your best bet is to consult a style guide (or ask your teacher).
Capitalization Rules for Job Titles
In business writing, job titles are usually written in lowercase unless they come before a person’s name.
- For example, you would write “He is the president of the company,” but if you were addressing him in a letter, you would write “Dear President Smith.”
In AP style, job titles are also lowercase when they follow a personal pronoun, as in “the manager said she needed more information.” There are some exceptions to these general rules, however. When a job title is used before someone’s name in direct quotes or in a list of people being introduced, it should be capitalized.
Job titles that are derived from proper nouns should also be capitalized, as in “the Vice President will be speaking at the meeting.” Finally, job titles that are regularly used as part of an organization’s name should always be capitalized, as in “the Board of Directors.”
By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure that your writing is both accurate and consistent with AP style.
Compound Job Titles
In business writing, as well as in academic writing, it is important to use formal titles correctly. The following are guidelines for using formal titles in AP Style:
- Compound job titles should be hyphenated. For example, the title of “president-elect” should be hyphenated when it appears before a name. However, the title of “vice president” should not be hyphenated when it appears before a name.
- When a compound job title appears after a name, it should not be hyphenated. For example, the correct way to write the title of “executive vice president” is “John Smith, executive vice president.”
- When a compound job title appears alone (without a name), it should not be hyphenated. For example, the correct way to write the title of “president-elect” is “The president-elect will be announced tomorrow.”
- When referring to someone by their formal title, always use the full and correct title. For example, the correct way to refer to someone with the title of “doctor” is “Dr. Smith.” However, if you are unsure of someone’s preferred title, you can use the more generic term of “Mr.” or “Ms.”
These guidelines will help you to use formal titles correctly in AP Style.
Official Names vs Common Names
In general, you should use the official name of something when you first refer to it in a piece of writing.
- For example, if you’re writing about the Vietnam War, you should call it the “Vietnam War” rather than the “Vietnamese War.”
However, there are exceptions to this rule. If a topic is commonly referred to by a nickname or shorthand, you can use that instead.
- For instance, everyone knows that the “Space Race” refers to the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to explore outer space.
Similarly, “World War II” is more commonly used than the “Second World War.”
In general, if there’s a widely used name for something, feel free to use it instead of the official name. However, be careful not to overuse nicknames and shorthand; if you use them too often, your writing will start to sound informal.
Degrees and Academic Honors
In general, it’s best to use an academic title after a person’s name on first reference and use the person’s last name thereafter. If you’re unsure about using a particular title, ask yourself whether the title is needed to establish the person’s credentials. If it is, use the title on first reference; if not, don’t use the title.
Also, consider whether the title appears before or after the person’s name. If it comes before the name-Dr. Smith, for example-use it on all references; if it comes after the name-Smith, PhD-you can omit it after the first reference. When in doubt, however, err on the side of formality and include any relevant titles. Following are some specific guidelines for using degrees and academic honors in AP style.
Addressing Someone in a Letter or Email
When addressing someone in a letter or email, it is important to use the appropriate title. In general, you should use the person’s full name and title, followed by the organization’s name on the next line. If you are unsure of the person’s title, you can use a courtesy title such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss.
If you know the person well, you can use their first name. However, it is important to err on the side of formality when using titles in correspondence. When in doubt, use the person’s full name and title.
Pluralizing Formal Titles
Here are some quick guidelines to pluralizing formal titles in AP style:
- When referring to a group of people with the same title, use the plural form of the title. For example: “The Board of Directors is meeting today.”
- When referring to a specific individual with a formal title, use the singular form of the title. For example: “Board Chairwoman Jane Smith is leading the meeting.”
- When a formal title is used before an individual’s name, it is always spelled with a capital letter. For example: “Director John Doe will be giving the keynote address.”
Hope this helps!
Titles That Come Before a Person’s Name
In general, titles that come before a person’s name are lowercased in AP style.
- For example, the AP stylebook entry for president states: “Capitalize president only when used as a formal title before the name of the president of the United States or before the name of another nation’s head of state.”
However, there are exceptions to this rule. When a title is used immediately before a person’s name in direct quotation or as part of a formal introduction, it should be capitalized.
- For example, if you were introducing someone named John Smith, you would say “I’d like you to meet John Smith, our vice president of marketing.”
In addition, certain titles are always capitalized in AP style, regardless of where they appear in a sentence. These include titles that are part of an individual’s official job descriptions, such as Judge or Dr. In addition, titles that appear on packaging or other promotional materials should be capitalized.
- For example, if you were writing about a new book by J.K. Rowling, you would refer to it as “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” not “Harry Potter and the deathly hallows.”
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that you’re using formal titles correctly in your writing.
Titles That Follow a Person’s Name
In general, refer to people by their last names. Use titles only when you need to show someone’s rank or position. With a title before a name, use the person’s last name without a courtesy title for men and women:
- President Abraham Lincoln, but Abe Lincoln.
Exceptions are religious figures (the Reverend John Doe), Senators (Senator Barbara Boxer) and members of the military below the rank of general (Captain Jane Doe).
With a title following a name, set off the title with commas:
- Martin Luther King Jr., PhD.
When someone has both a formal title and an honorary doctorate, use Dr. before the person’s first name on first reference and the surname on second reference, omitting any other titles:
- Dr. Mary Smith, the president said; Smith said she was honored.
When modifying a formal title that precedes a name, do not lowercase articles (a, an, the) or prepositions unless one is the first word of the complete quotation:
- Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey but Christie said in an interview that he was “disappointed”
- Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin but Ryan added that more needs to be done to achieve fiscal responsibility
- U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips but Phillips ruled that the ban violates soldiers’ free speech rights
- Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor but Sotomayor wrote in her dissent that she would have granted relief to the insurer.
See an AP Stylebook entry on titles for additional guidance on referring to people by position or rank.
Formal Titles in the News
When should you use formal titles, and when should you forego them? Here’s the rule of thumb:
- When the person in question is performing their duties, it’s perfectly fine to use their title.
- When they’re not on the job, it’s better to leave the title out.
So, for example, you would refer to “President Obama” when he’s giving a speech or meeting with world leaders. But if you were writing about him going for a walk with his family, you would simply refer to “Obama.”
The same goes for other titles, such as “Governor,” “Judge,” or “Professor.” Basically, if the person is working in their capacity as a holder of that title, feel free to use it. If not, leave it out. Simple as that.
Spoken Introductions of People with Formal Titles
When you’re introducing someone with a formal title, it’s important to use the proper form. Here are some guidelines to help you get it right:
- Use the person’s full name and official title when first introducing them. For example: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Dr. Jane Smith, the new CEO of Acme Corporation.”
- When you refer to the person by their title after the initial introduction, you can drop the person’s last name. For example: “Dr. Smith will be giving a presentation on our new product line.”
- If you need to abbreviate the person’s title, use the most commonly accepted abbreviation. For example: “Mr.” for men and “Ms.” for women.
- When in doubt, err on the side of formality. It’s always better to err on the side of formality when introducing someone with a formal title. For example: “I’d like to introduce His Majesty King John Smith.”
- When introducing multiple people with formal titles, use the highest ranking individual first followed by the others in order of rank. For example: “His Majesty King John Smith, Her Royal Highness Queen Jane Smith, and His Excellency President Barack Obama.”
By following these guidelines, you can be sure that you’re using the proper form when introducing someone with a formal title.
Business Cards and Directories
When it comes to business cards and directories, there are a few guidelines you should follow to ensure you’re using formal titles in AP style.
- Make sure to use the full title when listing someone’s name – don’t abbreviate or use initials. For example, if you’re listing the president of a company, you would write “President Joe Smith” rather than “POTUS Joe Smith.”
- When listing multiple people with the same title, alphabetize them by last name. For example, if you have two vice presidents, you would list them as “Vice President Jane Doe” and “Vice President John Doe.”
- When listing someone with a title that is also their job description (e.g., “CEO”), don’t include the person’s name – just their title will suffice.
Following these simple guidelines will help you ensure that you’re using formal titles in AP style.
Making an Appointment or Reservation
Some organizations, such as trade associations and companies, have a formal process for making an appointment or reservation. Other organizations may be more casual. The important thing is to know your audience and to use the level of formality that is appropriate.
In general, it is best to err on the side of caution and to use formal titles when making an appointment or reservation. This will show that you are respectful of the person’s time and that you are taking the meeting seriously. When in doubt, it is always best to ask the person how they would like to be addressed.
What Other Style Rules Apply to Titles?
In general, you should use formal titles only when you are referring to someone who holds a position of authority. This includes public figures such as politicians as well as corporate leaders and other professionals. When in doubt, it is always better to err on the side of formality. However, there are a few other style rules that you should keep in mind when using titles:
- When abbreviating a title, always use the shortest possible version. For example, “Dr.” is preferable to “Doctor,” and “Mr.” is better than “Mister.”
- When listing multiple people with the same title, you can use the plural form of the title. For example, you could write “The CEOs will be giving a joint presentation.”
- When using a title before a person’s name, capitalize the first letter of the title. For example, “President Obama will be giving a speech today.”
By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure that your use of titles is both accurate and stylistically correct.
When writing for a general audience, it is important to use the correct form of titles. The AP style guide provides clear rules for how to format titles. In general, you should use lowercase letters unless the title is a proper noun. The titles of people should be capitalized, as well as the names of groups and written works. If you are unsure about how to format a particular title, consult the AP Stylebook for specific guidance. Following these guidelines will help you use formal titles correctly in your writing.
When do you capitalize job titles?
Capitalize a job title when it immediately precedes the individual’s name. Do not capitalize the title when it is used alone or after the individual’s name.
- President Obama
- John Smith, CEO
- The president is in the Oval Office.
- John is the CEO of a large company
When do you use italics or quotation marks for titles?
Italicize the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows and long musical compositions. Put quotation marks around the titles of short stories, poems and songs.
- The Great Gatsby
- “I Will Always Love You”
Are there specific rules for titles of people?
Yes. In general, capitalize a person’s title when it precedes the name and is not followed by a comma. Do not capitalize the title if it follows the name or is separated from it by a comma. When in doubt, check how the individual prefers to be addressed.
- Vice President Joe Biden
- Joe Biden, vice president of the United States
- Dr. Smith
- the Rev. Mr. Green
- Judge Roberts
- First Lady Michelle Obama
- Second Lt. Jones
- Gen. Patton
- Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)
- Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)
- Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.)
Do you have any tips for writing about groups?
When referring to a group as a whole, capitalize the name of the organization, company or government agency. When writing about specific divisions within a group, use lowercase letters unless the division is an official part of the group’s name.
- The United Nations
- the Security Council
- the Democratic Party
- Harvard University
- the university’s English department
What about degrees?
When writing about academic degrees, abbreviate them and capitalize only the first letter. Do not use periods after the letters. When referring to a specific degree, spell it out.
He has a PhD in history.
She earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing.
What other general guidelines should I follow?
When in doubt, check how the organization or individual prefers to be addressed. Use lowercase for terms that are generic or refer to pieces of a whole. For example: He received an honorary doctorate but he doesn’t have a medical degree.
Use lowercase for job descriptions that are not titles. For example: He’s a doctor, not a physician.
When writing about an event, capitalize the name of the event but not the general category it falls into. For example: the Oscars, not the Academy Awards; the World Series, not the baseball playoffs.
Finally, keep in mind that AP style is constantly evolving. The best way to stay up-to-date is to consult The Associated Press Stylebook or visit the AP Stylebook website.