Post-nominal letters are the letters a person writes after his or her name to signify degrees earned from institutions of higher learning such as universities, seminaries, graduate institutions and medical schools. Intricate rules exist for notating post-nominal degrees in correspondence with respect to punctuation, order of degrees listed and etiquette.
Degree Notation After Name
A person who holds multiple degrees and is writing in a context outside of a scholarly environment may include the notation for one degree following her name. The degree chosen may be her highest degree or the one most relevant to her present correspondence. Listing a whole string of degrees after one’s name is considered a sign of pretension and suggests that the writer is flaunting her education. But within an academic setting, degree-holders may list all of their degrees based on the institution, as some schools advise against it.
Order of Degrees
No definitive set of rules exists governing the correct order in which multiple degrees are listed. While some academic institutions discourage listing multiple degrees, others recommend listing them in the chronological order in which they were given. In the standard hierarchy of listing degrees after names, academic degrees occupy a mid-tier ranking. A person holding religious degrees and academic degrees lists the religious degree first. List academic degrees before honorary degrees, which are listed before professional licenses.
Punctuation and Capitalization
The Associated Press Stylebook recommends abbreviating degrees, with periods but without spaces, when many individuals are being listed at the same time so that abbreviation is necessary to save space. When the letters are abbreviated, they should be capitalized -- for example, "Hans Hartman, Ph.D." Otherwise, the AP Stylebook suggests writing out the full title in lower-case letters, such as "Hans Hartman, who has a master's in psychology."
Abbreviations for people with bachelor’s degrees include BA for bachelor of arts; BFA for bachelor of fine arts; BM or B.Mus for bachelor of music and BS for bachelor of science. Abbreviations for those with doctorate degrees include DMin or D.Min for doctors of ministry; DSc for doctors of science; PhD or Ph.D. for doctors of philosophy; and EdD or Ed.D. for doctors of education. Abbreviations for those with master’s degrees include MDiv or M.Div. for masters of divinity; MD or M.D. for doctors of medicine; MM for masters of music; and MS for masters of science.
Boze Herrington is a writer and blogger who lives in Kansas City, Mo. His work has been featured in Cracked and "The Atlantic."