Officer Titles

MSCD contains a section on overuse of initial capitals (13.28–34). Here’s what I say in MSCD 13.30 regarding titles:

Drafters invariably use initial capitals when referring to officer titles (The certificate must be signed by the President of Acme), but authorities on general English usage recommend that one only do so when the title is followed by a name (President James Roe), which is never the case in corporate agreements. Similarly, it is best not to use a capital D in director.

Note that regarding officer titles, I state what authorities—in this case, The Chicago Manual of Style and Garner’s Modern American Usage—recommend, but I don’t insist on it.

This milquetoast position isn’t due to drafters’ overwhelming preference for initial capitals. Instead, it’s longer titles that give me pause. Consider these two alternative versions:

Mr. Jones shall serve as Acme’s Director of Business Development and Marketing–Middle East and Asia.

Mr. Jones shall serve as Acme’s director of business development and marketing–Middle East and Asia.

Although it appears contrary to what authorities recommend, I prefer, for two reasons, the version with the initial capitals. First, longer titles could be read as descriptive—that Mr. Jones directs business development and marketing, but that isn’t necessarily his title. Second, I’m not wild about the imbalance, in the second version, between no initial capitals to the left of the dash and initial capitals to the right.

That said, I still prefer The certificate must be signed by the president of Acme. (In the next edition of MSCD I’ll use a more felicitous example.) I currently propose to use initial capitals for longer titles only. If in a contract I ever need to refer to both shorter and longer titles, it would look awkward if I were to treat them differently. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

By the way, this issue would arise in all legal writing, indeed all writing, period, rather than just contracts.

Ideas, anyone?

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.