Job titles: Formal titles before names are capitalized

By Dick Thien
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

1. Formal titles (president, pope, senator, professor, mayor, city engineer) are not capitalized or abbreviated when used after a name or without a name.
EXAMPLES: The president said . . .
Virginia Smith, U.S. representative from Kansas , . . .

2. Formal titles used before a name are capitalized and sometimes are abbreviated.
President George Bush said . . .
U.S. Rep. Virginia Smith
Councilman John Doe

3. Informal titles -- those that describe jobs -- are not capitalized.
The team was headed by reporter John Jones.
He appealed to lawyer James Smith.

4. When used before a name and out of direct quotation, the following titles are abbreviated: Dr., Gov., Lt., Rep., Sen. and many military and religious titles (see those entries in The Associated Press Stylebook).
Dr. John Jones, Sen. Ben Nelson, Gov. Mike Johanns.

5. On second reference, drop the title and use the person's last name only.
President George Bush said Thursday that . . . .
At a news conference, Bush repeated his . . .

6. Do not use long titles (three or more words as a rule of thumb) in front of a name, except when the name is set off from the title by commas.

NOT: Secretary of State Colin Powell . . .
BUT: Colin Powell, secretary of state, said
OR: The secretary of state, Colin Powell, said . . .

Courtesy titles
(from The Associated Press Stylebook)

1. On first reference, use a man or woman's first and last name but do not precede with Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms.
According to John Smith,
According to Mary Smith,

2. On second reference, refer to men and women by their last names only. If they prefer, you may precede married women's last name by either Miss, Mrs. or Ms., (that means you have to be sure to ask). If they prefer, you may precede unmarried women's last name by either Miss or Ms., (again, that means you have to be sure to ask). AP says never use Mr.
According to John Smith . . . Smith said . . .
According to Mary Smith . . . Mrs. Smith said . . . or Ms. Smith said . . .

3. If a married woman prefers, or if her first name cannot be learned, use Mrs. on first reference with husband's first name.
EXAMPLE: According to Mrs. John Smith . . .

Note: A newspaper's own style overrides any other, including AP. Most newspapers have a local style book or entries in their computer system. When in doubt, go with local style.

Also note: The preceding rules have obvious problems. Many newspapers are trying variations. Some do not use Ms., Miss, Mrs., thus treating men and women alike in the news columns. A few others (The New York Times, for example) solve the treat-alike problem by going the other direction: They use Mr. before a man's last name on second reference.

And note: When you write about young people in a light vein, the use of their last name on second reference sounds odd. So, too, does use of the formal first name (such as William) instead of nickname (Bill). In such instances, exceptions can be made to the formal rules -- but too many exceptions give a newspaper an amateurish tone.

Titles of things
(From The Associated Press Stylebook)

1. Put quotation marks around (not a line under) the titles of books, movies, operas, plays, poems, songs, TV programs, lectures, speeches and works of art.
"The Return of the Jedi" was a disappointment.
Leonardo da Vinci painted the "Mona Lisa."
In her speech, titled "Bastions of Freedom," . . .

2. In composition titles, capitalize principal words, as well as prepositions and conjunctions if they contain four or more letters. Do not capitalize prepositions or conjunctions having fewer than four letters.
EXAMPLES: "War and Peace"
"Desire Under the Elms"

3.. Always capitalize the first word of a title, no matter of its size or type.
EXAMPLE: "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

4. Do not use quotation marks around the names of newspapers, reference books or magazines.
Time magazine (in instances where magazine is actually part of the formal title, capitalize it as well)
The Los Angeles Times (Note that " the" is considered part of the formal name)
Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary


Precede and Proceed

Precede means to go before.
EXAMPLE: He was preceded in death by his wife.
Note: Precede does not have a double e.

Proceed means to continue, to go forward, to move along a particular course.
EXAMPLE: After a short pause, he proceeded down the path.

Rebut and Refute

Rebut means to reply to an argument, without necessarily proving the point. Dictionaries ascribe to the word a certain formality of form, as in a legal argument or debate.

Refute, on the other hand, means a successful attack on another's position. Journalists should use this word carefully. As a rule, it is beyond the scope of reporting to declare one side a winner over another.


Pronoun Gender Avoid, when you can, assigning a masculine or feminine character to pronouns standing for general occupations or types. Often, you can change the noun to a plural so the sexless they can stand as the pronoun.

When the plural is inappropriate, however, writers divide into two camps. Half opt for the masculine he and half for he or she. In a survey of more than 100 editors, 55 percent approved of the simpler he over he or she; you can use he or she alone, rather than the awkward he or she.

Occasionally, you will see an attempt to create a new ungendered word, such as s/he, but these efforts have gained little support.

NOT: An American has a right to be proud of her country.
NOT: An American has a right to be proud of his or her country.
BUT: Americans have a right to be proud of their country.

Collective Nouns Collective nouns describe an entity made up of separate parts. Examples: family, jury, committee. Experts are divided over whether such nouns can be plural sometimes and singular others. The Associated Press is on the always-singular side -- as is the average ear (the jury ARE divided sounds odd to most of us). As a writer, you have to be alert to questions of subject-verb agreement and pronoun-antecedent agreement when using collective nouns.

NOT: A Lincoln family was honored for their contribution to . . .
OR: A Lincoln family were honored for . . .

BUT: A Lincoln family was honored for its contribution to . . .
OR: Members of a Lincoln family were honored for their contribution to . . .

The last solution, while wordy and awkward, is the writer's most common solution to the problem: make the noun plural by adding members or another appropriate word.


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