green_grrl (green_grrl) wrote in fandom_grammar,

Answer: Abbreviated titles

When is it appropriate to abbreviate titles (Mr., Dr.) and when should they be written out in full?

First, please note that a title directly precedes the person's name. Other uses are merely descriptive nouns and should always be written out.
Incorrect: Somebody ran for a Dr.
Correct: Somebody ran for a doctor.
Correct: Somebody ran for Dr. Fraiser.

Incorrect: She had the kind of glare that said butt out, Mr.
Correct: She had the kind of glare that said butt out, mister.
Correct: She had the kind of glare that said butt out, Mr. Bregman.

Let's look at the rules for titles, with some more examples from Stargate SG-1. There are different rules for when to abbreviate the various categories of what we call titles:
  • Social titles: Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr.

  • Civil and military titles: President, Senator, General, Colonel, etc.

  • Honorifics, or titles with "the": the Honorable, the Reverend

The Chicago Manual of Style is a standard American style guide for formal writing, such as papers and books. According to Chicago, when a civil or military title comes before a full name, it is usually abbreviated. An honorific may be as well.
Jack quickly scanned Kinsey's invitation list:
Rev. Samuel Stevens
Sen. Harry Clarkson
Sen. Alan Graysmith
Rep. Martha Hanley
Hon. David Thornton
When only a last name is given, a civil or military title should be spelled out. When used with "the," "Honorable" and "Reverend" should always be spelled out.
All Jack knew of the Right Reverend Samuel Stevens was that he was popular in conservative circles. His inclusion in a list of Senator Kinsey's band of corrupt insiders was going to need looking into.
Chicago also says that the following social titles are always abbreviated: Mr., Mrs., Messrs., Ms., M., MM. Mme, Mlle, Dr.

Another source of rules on titles comes from formal invitation etiquette, which says that when addressing invitations, all titles other than Mr., Mrs., or Ms. should be spelled out.
General Hammond passed out oversized envelopes of thick white linen paper to each addressee. Colonel Jack O'Neill, Doctor Daniel Jackson, Captain Samantha Carter, Mr. Teal'c. When Doctor Jackson turned over his envelope and saw Catherine Langford and Ernest Littlefield's names on the reverse, General Hammond couldn't help but smile along with him.
What about the second "Doctor Jackson" in the example above? Chicago says that "Dr." is always abbreviated, and this second use was in the narrative, not the invitation address. So why did I spell it out here? In short, fiction writing, narrative and dialogue, does not always adhere to the rules for non-fiction. The main aim of the writer is to pull the reader into the story. Ideals to strive for include:
  • Avoid making the reader trip over your writing. The more your writing meets the reader's expectations, the more easily the reader will get into your story and flow along with it.

  • Write dialogue that allows the reader "hear" your characters speak. By spelling out as much as possible, you signal to the reader exactly what the character is saying.

  • Write narrative appropriate to your point of view (POV). The tighter your narrative is to a particular character's POV, the closer your narrative style should be to dialogue.

In dialogue, if you spell out everything, you give your reader the characters' exact words.
Lieutenant Grogan led the British representative to the IOA into the conference room and introduced him to the base commander: "General George Hammond, sir."
Grogan is pronouncing "jen-er-al" George Hammond, not "jen" George Hammond, and the reader won't have to think twice about it with the title spelled out. This can also give you room to provide more "flavor" for your characters' speech.
"Leftenant Carl Grogan," Chapman mused to the general. "Good man. So far I'm impressed by your people."
An American reader might not remember to mentally read "Lt." with Chapman's British pronunciation. Spelling the title out phonetically (it's properly spelled lieutenant in American and British English despite pronunciation) reminds the reader of his accent.

However, keep in mind reader expectations.
General Hammond gestured to the chairs at the conference table. "I hope you had a good trip, Mister Chapman."

General Hammond gestured to the chairs at the conference table. "I hope you had a good trip, Mr. Chapman."
Because of convention, and the Chicago and invitation rules above, it is very rare to see "Mister" spelled out in written English. It's even more rare to see "Missus"—and "Ms." doesn't actually expand at all. Seeing "Mister Chapman" written out is likely to interrupt the reader's flow by being unusual, while "Mr. Chapman" is likely to be read and mentally translated to the sound "mis-ter" automatically. The reader expects the abbreviation.

When writing your story from a particular character's point of view, your narrative is meant to reflect that character's thoughts, which are somewhat like mental speech.
Jack was starting to realize how important Prof. David Jordan had been in Daniel's life.

Jack was starting to realize how important Professor David Jordan had been in Daniel's life.
Jack is not going to think of the man as "Prof." He would hear the man's full title in his mind, so the spelled out version in the narrative lets the reader more accurately "hear" Jack's thoughts.

If the POV of your story is more objective, or if you are quoting a section of written text—such as the invitation list, above, or a newspaper article—then you may want to revert to Chicago rules.

The title "Doctor" falls between Chicago and invitation rules. The abbreviation "Dr." is common enough—more common than "Capt." or "Prof."—that a reader will probably have no problem mentally translating it quickly. However the reader also is used to seeing the word "doctor" spelled out; it's not an unusual word that would trip up a reader. My personal preference is to spell it out in dialogue to maintain the sound of the character's speech. Whether I spell it out in the narrative depends upon the POV.

Spelling out all titles other than Mr., Mrs., or Ms. in dialogue and narrative is only a recommendation, but it has a logic that works for fiction writers. The only real rule is that once you've decided how you want to deal with titles, keep your style consistent throughout your story.

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