While there is a bit of a cultural distinction to be made as the treatment of post-nominal letters (e.g. Honorifics such as OBE, Esq., or Ph.D.; or licensure credentials such as PE), what are some general rules that should apply for the use? Likewise, when working in an international environment, should their use be adjusted based upon who you are addressing (i.e. some writing from the United States to someone in the United Kingdom) or should you default to using the local standards?

8 Answers 8


The phrase you are looking for is forms of address, and there is a huge amount of information on the subject. The sheer amount of information points to the fact that the correct form varies from honorific to honorific, country to country and setting to setting.

The best I can do is point you at some references:

  1. http://www.debretts.co.uk/forms-of-address/hierarchies/letters-after-the-name.aspx
  2. http://www.formsofaddress.info/post_nominals.html
  3. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Titles-Forms-Address-Guide-Correct/dp/0713683252
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    The field of forms of address encompasses all of this. There isn't a separate discipline that only deals with post-nominal letters.
    – John N
    Apr 12, 2012 at 13:31

Turns out that this is actually quite the complicated field and that there is also quite a bit of difference between how things are treated in the United States and the United Kingdom so this answer will focus on the United States usage.

With regards to the order of post-nominal letters the standard order in the United States is as follows:

  1. Religious orders
  2. Theological degrees
  3. Academic degrees - Which should be listed in ascending order if there are multiple degree is different fields. Thus, someone with a PhD would not list all of their preceding degrees if they are all in the same field, but if they were to earn an MBA they would list it as [Name], MBA, PhD. Also, holders of a PhD should not introduce themselves as doctor as a matter of course, the only appropriate use is by holders of a MD in a professional setting.
  4. Honorary degrees, honors, decorations - Of which honorary doctoral degrees would be listed and which also do not confer any sort of courtesy title such as "Doctor".
  5. Professional licenses, certifications and affiliations - For which if there are multiple then they should be listed in alphabetic order.
  6. Retired uniformed service

With regards to what should actually appear, it depends upon the environment involved and the actual context. Generally it is only appropriate to the academic degrees if it is directly relevant to the context which is why generally they only see heavy usage in academic environments or in the medical profession. Likewise, professional licenses and the like would only be listed if they are relevant to the environment (i.e.a CPA should not include it if they are working for a software company as a developer) and should be added or dropped from correspondence as needed. Thus, the usual rule of thumb in the United States it that less is better and in most cases they are dropped completely from anything less than very formal correspondence.

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    There are two exceptions I can think of to PhD holders not introducing themselves as "doctor" -- It seems to be generally accepted in an academic setting, in connection with their degree (it seems to be common practice on a resume, at least in my experience). It also seems to be generally accepted for therapists and the like with a PhD in psychology to use the title "Doctor", at least in the northeastern United States.
    – voretaq7
    Apr 12, 2012 at 17:25
  • @voretaq7 - I'd have to do a bit more hunting around but it seems that in the United States unless the "Doctor" is referring to a title (i.e. as a profession) it is considered to be an honorific or style which shouldn't be used by oneself as a form of address but rather should only be used by others in addressing yourself.
    – anonymous
    Apr 12, 2012 at 17:35
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    That's my understanding as well - It's proper to refer to yourself as "Doctor" if you're an MD, a PhD in a field that provides some kind of treatment/counseling, or an academic addressing members of your field / students with the degree as your source of authority, otherwise it just makes you seem pretentious.
    – voretaq7
    Apr 12, 2012 at 18:22
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    @voretaq7 - Well, in the academic field you don't refer to yourself as "Doctor" either and generally introduce yourself without it. If someone else is introducing you they would introduce you as "Doctor So and So".
    – anonymous
    Apr 12, 2012 at 19:56
  • Er in the UK those with a PHD do refer to themselves as Dr formally Sep 26, 2017 at 19:49

I have on my business card:

Kate Gregory, P.Eng, Ph.D

I list them in the order I earned them. I don't normally include them in resumes or bios, though there are times I do, when I feel they'll be relevant, such as when contributing to a bid on a project involving engineering (and therefore rich in engineers, who will think better of me for being one of them) even though I'll be doing software design. I don't normally include them on the "About Me" slide (if I even have one) in presentations I give, but I do for the course I teach at the local university, where having a doctorate is relevant.

I never introduce myself as Dr Gregory, and only answer to it when it's ironic from friends, or at the aforementioned university. I don't include an email signature at all, but I do encourage my staff to mention PMP and related qualifications in their signatures. To me the key is relevance. It has to be on-topic to tell someone your qualification. If not (say you're writing to your fellow pre-school parents) it just looks like showing off.

  • I seem to recall seeing somewhere that the academic honors should come before the professional credentials.
    – anonymous
    Apr 12, 2012 at 13:42

Three Primary Places.

  • On Your Resume
  • In your Email Signature
  • On your Business Cards

Also other places that officially identifies you such formal letterhead\ stationary that you have or a Name plaque on your desk.

  • On the right track, but can you expand upon that a bit? I've seen some folks around the office that have something along the lines of "John Doe, MCAD, BSCS, SCJP, ABC, XYC, ETC".
    – anonymous
    Apr 12, 2012 at 13:06
  • @RobZ around here we call that "alphabet soup" and it's generally considered bad form. I (and many I work with) are of the opinion that you should trim the list to 3-4 items max, listing the most relevant certifications, and only degrees at the PhD / MBA level. On a resume there's plenty of space to list your qualifications, and anywhere else it makes you look pretentious. That's just a small 10ish person sample in eastern New York though :)
    – voretaq7
    Apr 12, 2012 at 17:29
  • @voretaq7 - Right, pretty much the same thing that I wrote in my answer and even then it seems that fully proper etiquette limits the full alphabet soup to very limited situations.
    – anonymous
    Apr 12, 2012 at 17:32

I always thought that you are supposed to use titles, such as M.D., Phd, MBA, CPA only if they fit with the job title that you are working in. I think that if a college professor does have a Phd in the field that he is teaching, it is appropriate to us the title Dr. I am not sure how the rule of thumb applies to High Schools and Elementary Schools. I have seen principals use the title Dr. because they have a Phd, hopefully in education. On the other hand two high school teachers that I knew both had doctorates, and they did not refer to themselves as Dr. So, I think that it may be appropriate if teaching in a college or university but not middle or grade school.

I work at a university in accounting, and in e-mails I always see people plastering their titles, from Phd, to M.D., MBA, you name it. From what I could tell by their job titles, and their certifications, they are probably being pretentious because most of the time, those titles don't fit with their job titles.


As others have noted, the first question is, In what context?

If you're in some casual setting, and a friend says, "Hey, have you met by girlfriend Sally?", it would be very pretentious to say, "Hello. I am Dr John D. Jones, MD, OD, Prestitagious University, class of 1982." More likely you'd say, "Hi, I'm John."

In the U.S., it's common to refer to people with medical degress as "Dr so-and-so". It's debatable for other doctoral degrees. I don't think there's any consistent rule. It just depends on the preferences of the people involved.

I'd certainly mention any degrees you have on a resume. It's fairly common to put advanced degrees and certification on a business card. Sometimes in the letter head or under the signature on formal business letters.


Some colleges/universities refer to faculty with an earned doctorate as "Dr" but others address all of the faculty as "Professor"

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    Hi Shipofools, we prefer longer answers that explain the why as well as the what, even backing this up with explanation might help improve the communities view of the answer. But most of all, welcome to the WorkPlace!
    – user5305
    Aug 16, 2013 at 23:02

I think that an individual who has an earned doctorate from an accredited institution should use the title of Dr. regardless of what they do. It is not pretentious at all. It is a well earned and prestigious honour, to say the least. Also, let's not confuse a professional doctoral designation with an academic one. An M.D., DDS., or the somewhat newly established J.D. degree, does not carry the weight or years of study with dissertation requirements, as an earned Ph.D. There is no original research or new knowledge added to the discipline from those obtaining a professional doctorate: M.D., DDS., J.D. etc. I also think that lawyers want to be 'up there' with the M.D.'s in prestige thus changing the LL.B. designation to a J.D., so they, too, can call themselves 'doctors'. But, please don't try to pretend the amount of work equates to a Ph.D. Maybe the M.D. Degree should be designated as a Bachelor of Medicine; a DDS. as a Bachelor of Dentistry; and leave the J.D., as it was originally, a Bachelor of Legal Laws. Just another perspective. 😊

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    Mar 21, 2016 at 9:50
  • Please don't pretend the amount of work you did for your bachelor's equates to an MD. A bachelor of science degree is the entry requirement for medical school. (And I don't personally benefit from seeing MDs have prestige, but I did do the dissertation work for my engineering PhD in collaboration with a research lab in a medical school, and have had numerous colleagues with MDs or PhDs, as well as more than a few with both)
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 21, 2017 at 21:40

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