Abbreviating Academic Degrees

Already on Mots Justes, an example has surfaced of just how evolutionary grammar and punctuation can be. Below you’ll see that I used no periods in the abbreviation of my academic degree.

Now, neither Diana Hacker’s Bedford Handbook for Writers nor The Associated Press Stylebook addresses this issue directly, but in both, entries discussing how to use titles use periods:

Annlee Ellingson, B.A.

However, the most recent edition of The Chicago Manual of Style has this to say:

In conservative practice, periods are added to abbreviations of all academic degrees (B.A., D.D.S., etc.). Chicago now recommends omitting them unless they are required for tradition or consistency. (Italics are mine.)

Indeed, the no-period style seems to have been widely adopted: as I close in on my master’s (on this possessive apostrophe, the style guides agree), I can’t recall ever seeing “M.F.A.” or, in my case, “M.P.W.” (Master of Professional Writing). So, in a few months, this will be my signature:

Annlee Ellingson, MPW

Still, if you’re writing for a newspaper, stick with the traditional period-based abbreviation. (Actually, AP advises avoiding the issue altogether by phrasing it like this: “Annlee Ellingson, who has a master’s in professional writing …”)

In general—but especially when dealing with the more malleable “rules” of grammar and punctuation—the key is to be consistent. Pick a style and stick with it.

References

Chicago Manual of Style, The. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Goldstein, Norm, ed. The Associated Press Stylebook. New York: Basic Books, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2007.

Hacker, Diana. The Bedford Handbook for Writers. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Caught in the Net

British screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (A Cock and Bull Story, Millions¸ 24 Hour Party People, Hilary and Jackie, and Welcome to Sarajevo, among others) offers contrary wisdom on “How to write a movie” in Monday’s Guardian.

Caleb Crain, who’s written for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and the New York Time Book Review, asks on his blog, Who is this guy? Why aren’t there any links? And, more damningly, Is anyone else reading this?”

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