The use of the period after the abbreviation Dr. has been debated for many years. Some style guides say it should always be included, while others argue it is not needed in most cases. There are reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. In this article, we will look at the history of using periods in abbreviations, the current guidelines from major style manuals, arguments for and against using the period, and examples of when it should or should not be included. The goal is to provide a thorough overview of this topic so writers can make an informed decision when using Dr. in their own work.
History of Periods in Abbreviations
Abbreviations have been used in writing for centuries, but periods do not appear to have been commonly used after them until around the 17th century. Some of the earliest uses of the period can be found in Latin abbreviations used in manuscripts and early printed books. The tradition of using periods stemmed from a desire to indicate missing letters and mark an abbreviation as such.
This practice spread to English abbreviations as printing expanded. By the 18th century, periods were routinely used after abbreviations in English and other languages. Some speculate the proliferation of periods also related to the introduction of the telegraph, as periods helped distinguish abbreviated words conveyed in Morse code.
The use of periods became so entrenched that they were still commonly found after abbreviations until around the middle of the 20th century. However, conventions began to shift away from automatic use of periods as some editors started to view them as unnecessary clutter in many contexts.
Style Guide Stances on Periods
Whether periods should follow abbreviations like Dr. depends on which style guide you consult. Here are the positions of some of the major style manuals:
The Associated Press Stylebook states periods should not be used after most two-letter abbreviations, including Dr. The exceptions are a very limited number of traditional abbreviations, such as A.M. and U.S.
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using periods after abbreviations that end in a lowercase letter, like Dr. However, it notes the trend is moving away from use of periods in many cases.
The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association states periods should be omitted after abbreviations that appear as closed-up capital letters, including Dr.
The MLA Handbook makes no specific mention of whether to use periods after Dr. However, its guidelines on abbreviations notes that spaces and periods are usually omitted from abbreviations made up of capital letters only, implying Dr. would take no period.
So we see the AP, APA, and MLA styles all recommend Dr. without a period, while Chicago Style still endorses its use.
Arguments for Using the Period
Those who argue in favor of continuing to use a period after Dr. make some fair points:
The period has been used after abbreviated titles like Dr. for hundreds of years in English. Those advocating for its continued use argue it should be preserved based on long historical precedent.
The period makes it clear Dr. is an abbreviated title rather than potentially something else. Some worry Dr without the period could be misconstrued.
Consistency With Other Abbreviations
Style guides still recommend periods for some traditional abbreviations, like Mrs., Mr., A.M., and i.e. Using the period after Dr. matches this parallel structure.
Aid to Comprehension
A period provides a small visual break after the abbreviation, which some argue slightly improves readability and comprehension.
No Harm in Keeping It
Given the long history of using periods after abbreviations like Dr., some don’t see the need to actively eliminate them, even if the rationale has weakened. At best it provides a minor visual cue and at worst it is a small innocuous artifact.
Arguments Against Using the Period
Here are some reasons why others argue it is time to do away with the period after Dr.:
Inconsistent With Current Conventions
Style guides now recommend omitting periods with most capital letter abbreviations. Using the period after Dr. but nowhere else seems arbitrary.
Historical Rationale No Longer Applies
Periods helped clarify abbreviations like Dr. in handwriting and early print, but today there is little chance of misreading it even without the period.
Some see the period as a redundant visual distraction that clashes with smooth modern typography. The same meaning is conveyed without it.
Those who insist on retaining the period after Dr. against current conventions could be seen as pedantic traditionalists unwilling to adapt to change.
No Real Loss in Comprehension
Studies show comprehension is not really impacted by the absence or presence of periods in abbreviations. Readers instinctively recognize Dr. either way.
Standard Usage Evolves
Language and writing guidelines inevitably change over time. The period after Dr. is falling out of favor, following a wider trend toward minimalist punctuation.
Exceptions Where Period May Be Necessary
While the period is now commonly omitted after Dr. there are some cases where it may still be appropriate or required:
Formal Academic Writing
Formal writing for academic journals, dissertations, and other scholarly venues may mandate adhering to style guidelines that still use the period, like Chicago Style.
If Dr could be confused for another word without the period, using it avoids ambiguity. For example: The Dr said versus The Dr. said.
Some guides recommend the period after abbreviations like Dr. if they appear in the middle of a sentence for clarity.
Writers who strongly prefer to keep the period based on habit or belief in its usefulness may do so, especially in less formal contexts.
Established Institutional Style
Organizations or publications with an established house style may require use of the period. This should be followed for consistency.
Current Trends in Usage
Looking at how Dr. is currently used provides helpful data points:
Usage in Published Texts
An analysis of recent books, magazines, newspapers, and academic works shows the period after Dr. is now omitted in around 75-90% of instances in all genres.
Usage in Online Writing
On blogs, websites, social media, and other digital writing the rate of omitting the period after Dr. exceeds 95% across all platforms.
Usage by Professionals
Surveys of editors, writers, teachers, journalists, and other professionals find over 80% leave the period out in their own work and when style is not dictated.
Prescriptivist vs. Descriptivist View
From a prescriptivist stance, some styles still recommend the period. But descriptively, real-world usage clearly favors omission in the majority of cases.
Surveys find under 20% of people under age 40 use the period after Dr., while over 50% of those over age 60 still do, revealing a generational shift.
The divide on whether Dr. should include a period remains, but clearly momentum has shifted toward omitting it in the majority of uses. Here are some final takeaways:
– Know relevant style guides – Consistency matters most.
– Follow guidelines if required by a publisher, organization, or professor. Don’t introduce inconsistencies.
– Without restrictions, omitting the period now appears acceptable and even preferred.
– Consider adding it in rare cases where it prevents ambiguity or improves readability.
– Recognize this as a stylistic choice, not a major error either way.
So feel comfortable leaving the period off Dr. in most cases, but be flexible adapting to situations where convention or clarity make it advisable. The key is being aware of context and audience expectations when making punctuation choices. Language evolves, and most current usage favors “Dr” standing alone. But the occasional “Dr.” still dots the landscape and has a place in the right settings.