lfoldes's picture

I'd like to set the title "PhD" all in small caps.
Two questions:
1. Is this breaking a type or style convention?
2. What resource can I site to reference this information?

Linda Cunningham's picture

Chicago Manual of Style (Section 7.26) says: "The names of academic degrees and honors should be capitalized when following a personal name, whether abbreviated or written in full."

You could mix caps on the P and D and a small cap for the h....

AndrewSipe's picture

What's the California Manual of Style say?

Linda Cunningham's picture

"Hey man, like you can, like do what you like want...."


Ehague's picture

Chicago suggests droping the periods in "Ph.D." (Doctor of Philosophy), preserving the case distinction between the "P" and the "h", but doesn't suggest going any further (15.21). In Elements, Bringhurst suggests eschewing all superfluous punctuation (5.4.4), such as with the British take on "Mr", but also recommends using small caps for anything besides two-letter geographical acronyms and proper names (3.2.2)—the logic being that in some faces, full caps will be intrusive and mar the color of the page. If this seems to be the case with a given face for the word phrase "PhD", then it would only be consistent to treat similar, mixed-case abbreviations (such as Mr, Dr, Jr) in like fashion.

lfoldes's picture

Thanks for the references!

Linda Cunningham's picture

As much as I respect Bringhurst as a writer and designer, as a professional editor, I wouldn't use him as a style reference.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I'll second that. Sometimes his suggestions seem a little too artistic.

Linda Cunningham's picture

Which sometimes means he ignores standard practices, and that can lead to decreasing comprehension by readers. Doing that is definite no-no in the big, wide, and goofy world of editorial standards....

KenBessie's picture

He is a very good poet.

Ehague's picture

I tend to agree with that take. But Elements is probably the closest Livia is going to come to published justication for the choice. Like a the multitude of cool, different choices a designer can make (the whole guillemets debate comes to mind), it's something the editor, the reader, and even the designer—it cool and different isn't it?—aren't going to be used to, and possibly reject.

charles ellertson's picture

As much as I respect Bringhurst as a writer and designer . . .

Better drop the "designer." I don't think he's designed anything, at least, not since his days as a poet when he & a bunch of friends drew straws to see who was going to have to learn about making books so they could publish their poems.

He was a juror for the AAUP Book Show one year -- 1997 or 1998? There is a session in the program where the jurors get up & discuss their own design work. Bringhurst showed some works of art, starting with some paintings from the Renaissance. Nice talk, but no designs by Bringhurst.

As for PhD, treat it just like you'd treat GmbH or MoMA (in other words, don't just use small caps).

Linda Cunningham's picture

Better drop the “designer.” I don’t think he’s designed anything, at least, not since his days as a poet when he & a bunch of friends drew straws to see who was going to have to learn about making books so they could publish their poems.

Sorry to disappoint you, Charles, but he won The Alcuin Society's prize for Prose Non-Fiction Design last month: here is a link to the announcement.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Recently it was my task to ‘calm down’ a text churned up by all-caps names, acronyms & abbrevations. I intentionally wanted to break with conventions, as it just felt wrong to emphasize the formally necessary but negligible entourage of supplements instead of the actual message, by optical means.
Mixing caps w/ small caps even increased the ‘noise’. All small caps seemed to be only the second-best option: distinction would be leveled, information lost.
So I ended up trying a mix of small caps w/ lower case—a rather unusual & delicate approach, I guess. And, besides the text sort, the particular font in use being the linchpin of success, of course.
What do you think, is that a reasonable alternative?

(GmbH & Co. KG is—with this notation—the conventional abbrevation of the business organisation that would be something like a LLC in the US.)

Linda Cunningham's picture

That's an interesting take, Florian -- I certainly don't have a problem with it.

charles ellertson's picture

I'm not disappointed Bringhurst won a design award, just wasn't aware he'd ever done any beyond the poetry. Glad he's finally practicing what he preaches.

As to the small caps lower case letters -- looks fine in the samples shown. Probably only works when the small caps are a bit taller than x-height, though that can usually be "arranged." In my business, you'd also have to watch for an angry editor; we work for one publisher where the editorial department decided that since GmbH might appear in the backmatter (and since notes and bibliographies tend to be visually broken up anyway), there will be no small caps in backmatter, at all.

Linda Cunningham's picture

I’m not disappointed Bringhurst won a design award, just wasn’t aware he’d ever done any beyond the poetry. Glad he’s finally practicing what he preaches.

Strangely enough, if you Google "bringhurst+designer", you get great swacks of hits with things like "designer Robert Bringhurst" in them, so I'm not sure that this was a particularly recent phenomenon. It's also my understanding that he did Elements, at least in the beginning....

AzizMostafa's picture

BTW, what is the abbreviation of "Permanent Head Damage"?

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Can you really use the verb "to preach" for Robert Bringhurst (or Bringhurst's), Charles Ellertson——if yes, why ?

msilverz's picture

*The Economist* uses Florian's solution. They set 'PhD' in a mix of small caps and lowercase. It looks somewhat strange (with the ascender of the lowercase 'h' high above the small cap 'P' and 'D'), but I prefer it to the other solutions.

Ehague's picture

Another solution: if the font has ordinal letters, use small caps for the P and D, and shift the baseline on one of those superscripted h's for the h.

Florian Hardwig's picture

you’d also have to watch for an angry editor
That’s very right. But at least they can’t claim it’s the ‘wrong case’. (Oh well, editors will complain anyway as long as it isn’t ugly yet.)

Thank you, Matthew, for this information. So it’s legitimate, hooray! ;-)
The Economist, no wonder … indeed, it’s economic, concerning space.

It looks somewhat strange
works when the small caps are a bit taller than x-height
Yes, the method really depends on the font and the affected letters. I tried it out on a group of honourable people, with different results (orthodox way on top, ‘calmed down’ on bottom—notice how the ‘core names’ emerge from their title junk.):

While Linda’s prefix really does well, the Diplom-Ingenieur looks kinda odd, imho. The i.R. (German suffix for ‘retired’) is quirky, too.

By the way, the actual names (w/out titles) are (even ‘more’) sacrosanct, aren’t they? Or would anyone small-capitalise LeRoy’s ‘R’—let alone the E.T.A.?

Eric, that’s true for a PhD or a Dr—but certainly fails with a Lieutenant Colonel.

Linda Cunningham's picture

;-) Thanks, Florian, although technically here it would be L.M. Cunningham, M.E.Des. (or MEDes, which I'm not quite as keen on because it doesn't read as well -- to me anyway!).

Also agree with you that the others are somewhat off-putting.

Nick Shinn's picture

works when the small caps are a bit taller than x-height

Most fonts have small caps that are too close to x-height.
When I was working as an art director, I almost always had to make small caps bigger, by half a point usually. A compromise, as weight was affected.

Typical usage:
1. Acronymns in text, e.g. the problematic "U.S.", with the same letterforms as lower case
2. A line of all small caps used as a subhead
3. Titles (as in this thread).

With small caps that are barely larger than x-height, all these usages suffer.

Now admittedly the problem of too-small small caps was traditionally ameliorated by letterspacing (tracking) them out, but that's a bit of a work-around.

IMO, small caps should be around 120% of the x-height. Most are under 110%.
Another reason for larger small caps (from the type designer's perspective) is that they are very necessary in Cyrillic, with many more common shapes between cases than in Latin.

Why do type designers make small caps so close to x-height? I suspect it is because we visually balance the effect of equal amounts of small cap text with U&lc text, one-to-one (symmetry), and that does not correspond to typical typographic usage, which is asymmetric, requiring a small amount of small cap to hold its own against a much larger quantity of U&lc.

Ehague's picture

Eric, that’s true for a PhD or a Dr—but certainly fails with a Lieutenant Colonel.

I think the US Military does things in all caps, with a special set of abbreviations. Before that the traditional way to abbreviate the forms was with a period and hard space between the parts of the title. LTC Paul Heiney vs Lt. Col. Paul Heiney.

Or would anyone small-capitalise LeRoy’s ‘R’

Check out all the strange things they do to this poor man's adopted last name. Sacrosanct indeed.

Kristina Drake's picture

I once tried to use small caps for the degrees. My editor was very dis-pleased with me. In my opinion, it works fine if all you're dealing with are BA, MA, MFA, or MBA. But throw in some MCompSci and MAppSci and things get really ugly. So I caved and went with the traditional upper and lower case. Without periods.

Linda Cunningham's picture

(grumpy editor hat on) :-( I don't mind BA, etc. without periods, but I admit that anything more complex than that (like mine, for example) doesn't really work well without periods.

I have this sneaking hunch that doing away with the periods is going to take over, and IMHO, it does nothing for readability. (grumpy editor hat off)

Kristina Drake's picture

Heh, Linda--When we list multiple degrees after a person's name, for the longest time it was as follows:

"John Johnson, BA,MFA,MCompSci,CMA,PhD"

... no spaces. I imagine we were following some style guide or other, but some of these guys have like 10 of them... it got hard on the eyes. This year, we're adding spaces, but now it seems too stretched out to my eye. Maybe thin spaces could be a middle ground (for my purposes, anyway).

(Who really needs to brag about all their degrees anyway? Couldn't we just do away with them? joking, joking.)


Linda Cunningham's picture

I've had this discussion in the past many times: the general consensus, particularly for business cards, is to pick the most advanced degree.

In your example above, I'd simply make it John Johnson, PhD. In some cases, where someone has equivalent degrees -- both an MFA and an MBA, or an MD and PhD -- I'd list both.

My brother-in-law is a good example: he's both an MD and a DVM, but I don't think he has a business card, since he successfully plays the stock market, and no one in the tax haven where he lives, cares. ;-)

Jackie Frant's picture

Krania, I have 4 projects a year that list about 50 names, all with multiple degrees. The editor, and she is a good one - insists on the spacebands after each comma, no exceptions.

I've set type for more years then I care to remember, and I have never been asked to drop the spacebands between degrees. Is this something new? We may have been asked to give 1-N spaces to save room, but without space looks like a typesetter didn't know what he/she was doing...

BTW - for PhD why even bother consulting Chicago Manual of Style? It was explained to me that the person spent their time and earned their degree - they are entitled to it as is. Even if it is to be set in Small Caps - the h would remain in lower case -- just the nature of the beast.

Oh, and Linda, in your argument of periods or no periods - this is just typesetter opinion - either way should be okay - but just be consistent. If one degree is given it's punctuation, then it is said without giving - all degrees on that layout - should have periods. Same holds true without - than none shall receive... :-)

Linda Cunningham's picture

Absolutely, Jackie, and consistency is something I've drilled into my clients for years: a few ex-clients just never understood the reasoning behind it. :-(

Jackie Frant's picture

LOL - Linda - that is because "they can do it themselves after only 6 lessons in ________" (name that program)!

I use to take great pride in re-doing a job to show a client what it looked like when a professional did it - same job - same fonts - same breaks... just looked better!

And I'm sure you'll agree, they know something about it looks better, but never understood why. Letterspacing, Kerning - Consistency - hanging punctuation... all the good stuff has gone out of it!

Linda Cunningham's picture

"Lessons? We don't need no stinking lessons!"


Had (past tense, thankfully) one client that had several different divisions in one relatively small building -- each division had a unique way of writing the address. I made the absolutely radical suggestion that everyone standardize on one form: you'd have thought I suggested they all run naked through downtown in -40 weather.

So I was asked to come up with a recommendation -- I presented them with a list of 22 alternatives! -- and gave the rationale for my choice. They, of course, picked something else, and four months later, after they had all ordered new stationery, none of them had the agreed-to one.

I walked away....

dojr2's picture

I would not recommend setting PhD all in capitals, even if only because Ph should be thought of as one letter (the Greek Phi) and not as two (this is why the initial for Philippe is Ph. and not P. for say). Perhaps a good ligature would do, though? I thought that when I get my PhD I might write ΦD or Φd or something like that - I need to have a look at fonts which have a good set of Greek letters which mix well with the Roman ones etc. I wish I had done my Doctorate of Philosophy in Oxford where it is still abbreviated DPhil, which looks and sounds SO much better.

The rule on abbreviations in French is that if the abbreviation includes both the start and the end of a word, it is not followed by a point, otherwise it is. Hence 'M.' for Monsieur (in very ancient use it is Mr, though) but 'Mme' for Madame or 'Mlle' for Mademoiselle. Hence 'Prof.' or 'Pr' for professor. etc.

Kristina Drake's picture


Perhaps you would know if such a thing exists: At work, we have a very old and badly photocopied document which lists the correct abbreviation or acronym for universities. We use this list, which is by no means complete (and is also faded and illegible at the edges of the pages), for listing all the professors names and degrees, and where they earned them. I've been Googling to try and find a similar online resource, but to no avail. This mysterious compendium also serves as our style guide for that section -- which, I believe is where the strange no spaces rule originated.

Unfortunately, listing only the highest degree earned is not likely to be an option since we also include the conferring University. I presume some students want to know where there professors were educated and what kind of education they have, but like many things, we continue because "we've always done it like that" without knowing exactly why. It certainly would be a whole lot simpler if we could do away with it all, believe me.

Do you know of any resources like that?... or some official organization that determines how university names can be abbreviated? (lol)

Just thought, as a sidetrack and thread hijacking, that you might have some insight.


Linda Cunningham's picture

I've not seen one, but I have no doubt that one must exist somewhere. I didn't see anything on their website (although I must admit I only gave it the once-over) but you might try contacting the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada in Ottawa. If they don't have it, I bet they know who does....

Kristina Drake's picture

I knew you'd have some nugget to offer ;)


Linda Cunningham's picture

When you get it, I'd love a copy -- I collect editorial ephemera the way some folks collect typefaces. ;-)

will powers's picture

There's another interesting use I saw in "The Economist" today. When using the acronym for African Development Bank, they use a combination of smalls and lowercase:


In your mind's eye, imagine A, D, & B in smalls; leave the f lowercase.

They seem to have edited assiduously to avoid starting a sentence with a small cap. I have had numerous editors tell me they object to starting a sentence with a small cap. Seems silly to me as long as the abbrev or acronym has been explicated earlier.

The other problem with using smalls in these kinds of instances comes when you need to make it plural: say, when you have lots of MPs. In most cases the small cap "s" is hardly distinguishable from the lowercase "s".

Takes a bit of jiggering around to make it clear.


Linda Cunningham's picture

I've done work in the past for numerous divisions of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and I can't even begin to relate all the various permutations and combinations that showed up in their publications.

So long as it's defined properly in the first instance, and doesn't show up in at the beginning of a subsequent sentence (which really isn't difficult), there really isn't a problem....

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