7 Subjects of Academic Terminology
Go to the head of the class by observing these rules, recommendations, and conventions about scholastic terminology:
Specific course names are capitalized but not enclosed in quotation marks: “Every section of Introduction to Psychology is closed.” A numbered course, even a conjectural one, is also capitalized: “The senator obviously failed Economics 101 [or “Econ 101”].” Generic references, however, should be lowercased: “She was late to her engineering class.”
A reference to an academic degree is best spelled out, and should be lowercased:
“She earned a bachelor’s degree in English.”
“A master’s degree usually requires completion of a master’s thesis.”
“All earned their doctoral degrees [or “doctorates”] at prestigious universities.”
This form simplifies matters, because use of initials is complicated by a couple of factors: First, not all universities style degrees with the abbreviations BA, MA, or PhD; some reverse the letter order in the first two cases. (PhD, for “doctor of philosophy,” is already reversed, so it’s inconsistent, but let’s just let that long-standing convention go.)
Furthermore, distinct abbreviations exist for a bachelor’s degree in divinity (BD), fine arts (BFA), music (BM), and science (BS). The same holds true for some master’s degrees. For simplicity, use the generic phrase “bachelor’s degree” or “master’s degree.
Also, people are divided on whether to include periods after each initial; if you must use abbreviations, omitting periods is the simplest solution (especially if you use plural forms).
Note that unless the name of the major is a proper noun, such as the name of a language, it should be lowercased: “Every applicant has a master’s degree in business administration.” (Anyone who has attained this degree may also be referred to as a master of business administration, but that unusual usage seems pretentious.)
The lowercase form of an academic discipline is distinct from that employed for a specific reference to an academic department, such as “She has taught in the Department of Business Administration [or “the Business Administration Department”] for seventeen years.” But initial caps are not called for if the reference is casual, as in “She has taught business administration for seventeen years.”
Names of schools or colleges within a university are capitalized: “the School of Business,” “the College of Fine Arts.”
Letter grades should not be emphasized with quotation marks or with italics (unless distinguishing them as terms, as here). The forms for various usages follow: A, B+, Cs, D-plus, F-minuses. (Some publications use an en dash for a minus sign.) Although the plural form of the optimum letter grade could conceivably be misconstrued as the word as, be consistent in omitting apostrophes as well.
When a person is generically referred to as having received an academic fellowship, lowercase fellow; when the fellowship is specifically named, capitalize the word: “For you to qualify to be a Stegner Fellow, we do not require any degrees or tests for admission.” Other specific references should be capitalized, as in “He is a former National Merit Scholarship Merit Scholar.”
“Cum laude,” “magna cum laude,” and “summa cum laude” are lowercased and need not be italicized, because they are Latin terms widely adopted into English. Honors and superlative forms are not capitalized, either.
Class levels are always lowercased: freshman, sophomore, and so on, as well as in phrases like “postgraduate studies,” “postdoctorate research,” and “premedical [or “premed”] studies.”
Numbered class-level grades can be spelled out or rendered in numeral form according to a publication’s style, but it’s best to be consistent. For example, if your publication adheres to The Associated Press Stylebook, instead of spelling out grades up to nine and then using numbers for ten and above, use numerals for “1st grade” through “12th grade.”
Hyphenate “fourth grade” and the like only when the term modifies a noun: “fourth-grade student.” No hyphen is necessary for “fourth graders” and similar constructions, either.
Indicate grade ranges, as any number range, by linking the low and high numbers with an en dash, not a hyphen (unless en dash style for a Web site is a hyphen, as here). Variations from “students in grades 6-8” are “students in sixth through eighth grades” and, less gracefully, “sixth- to eighth-grade students.” Some publications spell out isolated grades but use numbers in ranges.
For schools with prekindergartners and/or kindergartners, the number-range style is “P-5” or “PK-5” (and, occasionally and clumsily, “preK-5”), or “K-5. When spelling early grades out, do not capitalize kindergarten or prekindergarten; also, it’s kindergartner, not kindergartener.
A first reference to an academician should capitalize the title before the person’s name: “Associate Professor Jane Doe is teaching the course next semester.” But subsequent references to the person need not repeat her job title: “Doe taught it last year, but it was not offered in the fall.”
As with any other job title, an academic title is usually lowercased in isolation (“The professor looked askance at the late arrival.”) or in apposition (“Jane Doe, associate professor of business administration, is teaching the course next semester.”) The exceptions are for what are called named, or endowed, professorships or chairs: “She was named the John Doe Professor of Life Sciences”; “He is Mary Smith Chair of Social Sciences at Jones University.”
It is widely considered bad form to use the abbreviation Dr. to identify someone who has earned a doctorate; this title is best reserved for medical doctors.
Note that the general preference for minimization of capitalization can be relaxed in special circumstances such as lists or other display text, such as a roster of honorees or a caption below a photograph.
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