How To Use Formal Titles in AP Style
I’ve learned, especially when writing about living persons, that formal titles are a big deal. If you fail to properly capitalize an individual’s formal title, that person may perceive it as an insult. You may also run into people insisting that you capitalize job titles that don’t actually qualify as formal. In those cases, just let them know that you’re adhering to the Associated Press Stylebook. Below are some guidelines on how to work with formal titles in AP style.
Capitalize Formal Titles Before Names
Formal titles in AP style should be capitalized when they immediately precede one or more names. For instance, people often ask, “Is president capitalized?”. The simple answer is, “yes”. See the formal titles examples below:
President Abraham Lincoln
Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dan Quayle
When a title stands alone or is offset from a name by commas, it should be lowercase.
The president was on vacation.
The lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, was serving in the governor’s absence.
If an individual does not presently or permanently hold a title, still capitalize it when including it before the person’s name. However, do not capitalize adjectives describing the status of the title.
former President Jimmy Carter
interim Mayor Todd Gloria
Formal Titles vs. Occupational Descriptions
Are job titles capitalized? The challenge is distinguishing between formal titles and occupational descriptions. A formal title is conferred upon an individual alongside a scope of authority. Examples include persons in the military, government officials, religious leaders and royalty. Formal titles may also denote a level of academic or professional achievement, as in the case of doctors.
Occupational descriptions, on the other hand, more generally describe what a person does for a living. Occupational descriptions are not capitalized even when positioned directly before an individual’s name.
astronaut Sally Ride
actor Ronald Reagan
professor Barack Obama
Notice that the AP Stylebook does not recognize professor as a formal title. Professor Emeritus, however, is a formal title and should be capitalized accordingly before a name.
For further guidance in determining whether a title is formal or occupational, you should also check whether it is capitalized in usage by the organization conferring it.
Formal Titles in Comma Constructions
If you remain unable to determine whether a title is a formal title or an occupational description, use a comma construction and set the title in lowercase apart from the individual’s name.
The department meeting was chaired by Jesse Andrews, coach of the lacrosse team.
Comma constructions should also be used for long bureaucratic titles.
Greg Eagles, deputy associate director of night basketball programs, opposed extending the three-point line.
If a title is unique to one person within an organization, use a comma construction along with the word the before the title.
Oscar Scolari, the chief operating officer, is second-in-command.
Formal Titles to Abbreviate
Most formal titles should be spelled out at all times. Specific exceptions include Dr., Rep., Sen., Gov., Lt. Gov. and certain ranks in the military. These AP style titles should be abbreviated only when used directly before a name.
Additional Guidelines for Formal Titles
Stories with U.S. datelines generally should not include U.S. before the titles of government officials. Include U.S., however, if the omission could cause confusion.
U.S. Sen. Diana Salazar was scheduled to meet with state Sen. Calvin Carson.
International stories should include U.S. before government titles for U.S. officials.
Titles of nobility sometimes serve as alternate names for individuals. In such cases, capitalize the full title.
The Earl of Sandwich ordered a salad.
Formal Titles Are Serious Business
Do you still have questions about how to use formal titles in AP style? Are you still unsure on some job titles and if they are capitalized or not? Let us know by commenting below, and don’t forget to check out our blog on how to use courtesy title in AP style. Click here if you’d like to freshen up on some more AP Style rules.
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- How To Use Formal Titles in AP Style - July 12, 2022
- What Are Superlative Adjectives? - July 6, 2022
Should there be a comma between two titles for the same person? Example: Jane Doe, Chief Executive Officer and Vice President, Soso Hospital ?
Good question, Courtney. It depends on what you’re writing. If you’re talking about Jane Doe in an article, you’d write, “Jane Doe, chief executive officer and vice president of Soso Hospital.” (Note the lowercase titles.)
If the name/title is being used in an email signature or business card, then AP style doesn’t have a preference on how to handle this.
How about in the Title of a Press Release
ABC names Jane Doe Executive Director
AP style calls for “executive director” in that situation — lowercase.
In a sentence within an article, yes.
But in the title (headline) of a press release, wouldn’t Executive Director be capitalized?
Hi, Chris. The rules for handling formal titles are the same in headlines. “Executive director” is listed after the name, so it should be lowercase.
– “AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll to step down at year’s end” (formal title)
– “Froke named APME executive director and AP Stylebook editor” (occupational description)
I have always wondered about ministers having long titles, or short titles for that matter.
Please tell me whether this is correct (AP style):
(1) “The dry season will persist tell end of October,” said Hannah Goh, the minister of welfare, community wellbeing, women and childhood development.
(2) We will rebuild the drains when funds are available, said Henry Fang, the minister of local government and housing.
Your titles look great, Jason!
What about a name such as Clayton Clark II, Ph.D. Is that correctly punctuated?
It’s perfectly punctuated, TCK!
Hello! What about a title after a name that accompanies a testimonial. For example, “This product is amazing!” — Jane Smith, Designer, Product Team
What would AP do?
“Product Team” as a company name: “Jane Smith, designer, Product Team”
“Product Team” as a department within a company: “Jane Smith, designer, product team”
I have two questions about capitalization of professional titles from an interview.
In talking about a certification: “I have become a certified Scrum Master and a certified Product Owner.”
And in listing previous job titles: “(PM, technical business analyst, IT manager, process analyst).”
The certifications as you have them are lowercase, but you can use the initialism for the second reference.
Ex: “I just became a certified scrum master, but John has been a CSM for 5 years.”
Your other examples require lowercase as well.
so anytime a title is after a name you lowercase it?
Hi, Austin. Lowercase the title when it’s acting as a descriptor, whether before or after the name.
I am writing a letterhead and I would like to put my occupational description/title and employer below my name. How should I do this?
Hi, MB. You can take more liberties with letterhead than you would with an online article. Go with whatever fits your brand identity.
I have a question about multiple titles. Is it against AP style to use a professional position title in addition to a professional abbreviated title? For example, is “Associate Professor Dr. John Doe” correct? Or is it better to eliminate the professional abbreviated title, like “Associate Professor John Doe”? Which is more correct?
Hi, Hannah. AP does allow multiple titles.
Here’s an example an AP editor gave last year:
“Dr. Robert Jones, the Helen B. Hawkins chair of psychiatry”
When doing formal title on the leadership page of a website (say in a tile, or box with the person’s photo), what is the correct way to write the title? Comma or no comma after every line (excluding the name line)? For example:
Product Development & Supply,
(Company Name) Research & Development
Hi, Mark. I don’t see that AP Stylebook has weighed in on this particular application and format.
I would drop the commas. Keep them only if you’re going to list more than one title/department on a line.
Global Head, Discovery
Product Development & Supply
(Company Name) Research & Development
What about this sentence: His past work also includes service as a senior deputy attorney general for the Nevada Office of the Attorney General; assistant city attorney for the city of Yuma; and special assistant United States attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office.
Your capitalization looks great. Note, however, that you should use commas in place of semicolons in that sentence. Use semicolons to separate items in a list only when at least one item in the list contains commas.
To learn more: https://www.bkacontent.com/making-semicolons-work-for-you/
I have been trying to determine capitalization in a situation like below:
I went to the sheriff’s department early this morning.
I have read conflicting information about whether “sheriff’s department” or “sheriff’s office” should be capitalized.
Hi, Thomas. A general mention of the sheriff’s office is lowercase, but you should capitalize the organization’s name.
Ex: “I went to the sheriff’s department early this morning.”
Ex: “I went to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office early this morning.”
When there is need to list several names, including their titles and departments, consecutively on the same line, how should they be separated? In other words with commas or semicolons? Additionally, what precedes the conjunction?
Jane Doe, EVP, Merchandising
John Smith, SVP, Production
Joe Blow, Sr. Dir., Development
Sally Sue, Sr. Dir., Supply
Ex: …presented to you by Jane Doe, EVP, Merchandising; John Smith, SVP, Production; Joe Blow, Sr. Dir., Development; and Sally Sue, Sr. Dir., Supply.
While the vertical list is easier on the eyes, with space limited and commas seem to confuse the reader. Please help.
Your punctuation is correct in all examples, Shelly. Note, however, that AP doesn’t capitalize titles following a name. Here’s the Ask the Editor exchange:
Question: “In a job title, do you lower case department or region names when set off by a comma? For instance: Mary Edwards, vice president, business development, world-wide public sector, Latin America.”
AP’s Answer: “Yes, although could you do it this way: Mary Edwards, vice president for business development, world-wide public sector, Latin America.”
In an email signature would I list: VP, Partnerships + Business Development or Partnerships + Business Development, VP
I’m not sure if “Partnerships + Business Development” is the department or the company name. If it’s the department, I’d lead with “VP,” but which format you take is really a matter of preference.
Thank you for the response. And my apologies for miscommunicating my question. Let me clarify. When listing a number of individuals with their titles and departments, is it best to separate each individual from the next by a comma or semicolon? Note this is not a full sentence, rather a subtitle listing presenters in a video.
With semicolons: Jane Doe, EVP, Merchandising; John Smith, SVP, Production; Joe Blow, Sr. Dir., Development; Sally Sue, Sr. Dir., Supply
With commas: Jane Doe, EVP, Merchandising, John Smith, SVP, Production, Joe Blow, Sr. Dir., Development, Sally Sue, Sr. Dir., Supply
Or would this be more appropriate?: Merchandising EVP Jane Doe, Production SVP John Smith, Development Sr. Dir. Joe Blow and Supply Sr. Dir. Sally Sue
Hi, Rachelle. The example with commas only is not correct. The semicolon example and final example (putting their titles first) are both OK.
What is the appropriate format for titles, email addresses and phone numbers on a business card?
Senior Vice President for Sales and Service
o. 123.456.7890 m. 987.654.3210
Hi, Tammy. AP style doesn’t give advice on this. Whatever design you’re comfortable with will work.
Is there any information in regards to capitalization within a job posting? Should I only capitalize the title of the position being posted? Re: Administrative Assistant who reports to the northern regional director? No capitalization for regional director?
Hi, Jennifer. For a job posting, go with personal preference or company style. If you want to closely follow AP style, then also leave “administrative assistant” lowercase.
For a toy do you capitalize both the brand and the name of the set or just the brand? For examples is it LEGO Brick Box or LEGO brick box
Hi, Pam. You should capitalize the brand and the toy name. Ex: LEGO Brick Box
Hi Amber, I’m calling out a quote in creative design (it’s literally in a call-out box separate from the rest of the text) and the layout is as follow, would the title director be capitalized?
“This was a really great program and I’m so glad we participated”
– Mary Ann McIntire
director, Surgical Services, St. Ignace Hospital
Thanks for your help!
Hi, Erin. I would capitalize “director” because it’s the first word of the job title line. Thanks!
In submitting an article on two military officers, the editor changed the capitalization of some of the titles of their positions, for example: Maj. Jack Jones is the Commander of the Parachutist Ft. Bragg Team and Lt. Col. Tom Brown is Battalion Commander of 2nd Air Cavalry.
Only the rank and name capitals remained. The reason given was that AP’s rule was followed, changing the C,P and T in the first example, and the B,C,A and C in the second example.
Does this ‘rule’ apply to military designations ?
Which job titles can you abbreviate (such as CEO, VP etc.)?
You can abbreviate any common job title that will be easily understood by others.
Thanks for reading!
Hi Amber, in the passage of an individual’s bio, “John Smith is the Founder and Principal Engineer of …. He is a licensed Professional Engineer…”, would you leave uppercase the words founder, principal engineer and professional engineer if that’s individual’s preference or follow AP Style?
Hi, Philip. I would go with AP style rules. Thanks!
Do you capitalize titles after the name when putting together a program for a conference? For example: Tips for Clean Water – Jean Smith, Landscape Architect, Clean Water Foundation.
AP doesn’t capitalize occupational descriptions like “landscape architect.” However, for your conference program, you can use whichever style you believe best fits the conference.
Do you capitalize the title if it’s before more than two names with the same occupation?
Ex. “… when Officers Jane Doe and John Doe entered the scene…” or “Doctors Billy Bob and Bobby Bill…”
If the title is acting as an occupational description only, it should not be capitalized.
Note that AP calls for “Dr.” or “Drs.” (plural construction) in first reference as a formal title before the name of an individual who holds a doctor of dental surgery, doctor of medicine, doctor of optometry, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of podiatric medicine, or doctor of veterinary medicine.
Ex: Drs. Billy Bob and Bobby Bill
In this case would the title governor be capitalized when the reader knows to whom the title specifically refers?
Governor John Smith returned from his vacation Tuesday. The governor(?) or The Governor (?) immediately went to work.
AP has you abbreviate certain titles when used before a full name. “Governor” is one of those titles.
Go with: “Gov. John Smith returned from his vacation Tuesday. The governor immediately went to work.”
Thanks for reading!
Hi, I have two issues here
1. WHO Advocacy and Communications Officer Jane Tan said…
2.WHO programme director John said…
I am confuse “advocacy and communications officer” and “programme director” are job title or job description. Should I capitalise it?
If those examples contain formal titles, then the titles should be capitalized. If you’re not sure whether those are formal titles, I suggest that you act as if they are job descriptions.
When listing a title for a synopsis of a speaker – Would you say Crystal May, COO and co-founder of company.
That’s correct, Patty!
Hi Amber! How about an exec with two titles in a press release after a quote, like this: John Doe, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Product Officer said.
According to AP’s rules, you’d write, “John Doe, chief marketing officer and chief product officer, said …”
Should Corporate Marketing and Communications be capitalized?
…….where she was the senior director, Corporate Marketing and Communications.
I’m not sure what “Corporate Marketing and Communications” is. If it’s the division of a company, you can capitalize it. Also, I wonder if the comma is incorrect there. I don’t have the full sentence and can’t say for certain, but would “she was the senior director of Corporate Marketing and Communications” work better?
If I write an email stating Bob Jones Executive Director should it be lowercase?
It’s unclear how you intend to use “Bob Jones Executive Director” in the email, but it should follow the same rules:
Ex: I spoke to Executive Director Bob Jones.
Ex: I spoke to Bob Jones, our executive director.
Ex: I spoke to Bob Jones, executive director of finance.
It would be appropriate to sign the email “Bob Jones, Executive Director.” That would be a stylistic choice that differs from AP style, but it’s appropriate in business.
Wondering about the AP convention of using first & last names on first mention, last name only with subsequent mentions.
How do formal titles work here — specifically thinking of Dr. “Dr. John Smith is a general practitioner.” In the next sentence (or paragraph), it feels correct to refer to “Dr. Smith”, rather than just “Smith”? But I can’t really find an AP official answer to how to incorporate formal titles into these subsequent name references.
AP says, “The form Dr., or Drs. in a plural construction, applies to all first-reference uses before a name, including direct quotations. Do not continue the use of Dr. in subsequent references.”