Whether or not initials should have periods after each letter is a matter of style and preference. There are valid arguments on both sides of this debate.
There is no universally accepted rule on whether initials should include periods. Different style guides take different approaches:
- AP style (Associated Press style) omits periods in initials.
- Chicago style includes periods in initials.
- MLA style (Modern Language Association style) uses periods in initials.
So whether to use periods in initials depends on which style guide you follow. In casual writing, periods are often omitted. But many formal publications and documents include periods. When in doubt, check the preferred style of your organization or publication.
Using Periods in Initials
Here are some reasons why periods are commonly included in initials:
- It helps distinguish initials from regular abbreviations or acronyms. For example, “U.S.” clearly stands for “United States” while “US” could be mistaken for a word.
- Periods indicate missing letters. They show that these are shortened versions of full names, not freestanding letters.
- It maintains consistency with how periods are used in abbreviations. Most abbreviations use periods, like “etc.,” “i.e.,” or “e.g.”
- Some influential style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style recommend using periods.
For these reasons, many formal documents include periods in initials. This is seen as more grammatically correct by some. But others argue periods are unnecessary and just clutter initials.
Omitting Periods in Initials
Here are some arguments for omitting periods in initials:
- It creates a cleaner, more minimalist look.
- People recognize initials just fine without periods, like FDR or JFK.
- Style guides like AP Stylebook don’t use periods in initials.
- Adding unnecessary punctuation can disrupt the flow and readability.
Those who prefer this approach point out that we don’t use apostrophes in abbreviations like TV or CD. So why use periods in initials? Keeping initials clean and simple has its benefits.
Examples of Initials With and Without Periods
Here are some examples of initials with and without periods:
|W.E.B. Du Bois
|WEB Du Bois
As you can see, the same initials are treated differently depending on the preferred style.
When to Use Periods in Initials
So when should you use periods in initials? Here are some guidelines:
- Use periods if your organization or publication follows a style guide like Chicago Manual of Style or MLA that requires it.
- Use periods in very formal documents like academic papers, government reports, or legal contracts. This is considered proper form by some.
- Omit periods in informal writing like text messages, emails, or social media. Periods are not usually expected in such contexts.
- Omit periods if following AP style for journalism.
- Be consistent within a document. Don’t mix periods and no periods for the same person’s initials.
The most important thing is to pick one style and be consistent. Check what style is preferred for the type of writing you are doing.
Initials With Titles or Suffixes
A special case is when initials are used alongside titles or suffixes. Some examples:
- M.L.K. Jr. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
- J.K. Rowling, Ph.D.
- C.E.O. Jack Smith
In these cases, the periods are often retained before the Jr./Ph.D./C.E.O. to make it clear those abbreviations stand separately from the initials. So the guideline is to keep the periods between initials, but omit them between the initials and titles/suffixes.
Initials in Names
Another case is when initials are used in place of a first name, like:
- A. Burr Humphrey
- T.S. Eliot
Here there is not a consensus. Some styles use periods, others leave them out. Again, choose one format and be consistent within a document.
Should you use periods in initials? There is no right or wrong answer. Standards vary based on different style guides. In formal writing, periods are common but not always required. In informal writing, periods are often dropped. The key is to follow a single style consistently within a given document.
Know your audience and the conventions of your field. Stick to the preferences of your organization or publisher. And when in doubt, check the style guide to see if it specifies a format for initials.