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In my industry-sponsored dissertation, I want to thank my industry contact and some non-academic persons in the acknowledgement section of my dissertation. How should I refer to them:

  • John Smith
  • J. Smith
  • Mr. John Smith

Considering the slightly informal nature of the acknowledgement section, yet keeping in mind that these are industry folks who wouldn't mind a bit of respect.

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    With their full industry title: Mr. John Smith, the chief engineer of the Qwert corporation. – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 1:35
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    Also, if they hold a formal academic degree as well, Mr. becomes Dr. – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 1:37
  • Ah, I knew I had seen a similar question before… and now I know why! “Should honorifics be included in acknowledgments?” was actually my first ever contribution to this site, almost a year ago! – F'x Sep 5 '13 at 21:10
  • I'd first look for guidance in a style guide somewhere. Assuming there is none to be found, though, I'd also consider asking Mr. Smith himself: "I plan to mention you in my acknowledgements section – how would you like me to write your name?" – J.R. Sep 5 '13 at 21:17
7

Acknowledgments usually skip formal titles, i.e. no Prof., Dr., Mr. or Ms. Some journals even insist on it in their authors guidelines (here for J. Chem. Ed.):

Acknowledgment
Include acknowledgment of grant and other financial support, technical assistance, colleagues’ advice, and so on. Do not use professional titles or honorifics in this section.

If your journal has guidelines on the topic, follow them.

Otherwise, just refer to the person as you would if you were giving his name to a colleague, i.e. omit the titles and honorifics unless you barely know them. But if you think they will like it, use their titles, it doesn't hurt!


To give a few examples from Nobel-prize winning papers:

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  • True, but in journals it is understood that, by default, the title is something like Dr. or Prof. When you want to clarify, you can always do it though the exact style may have to be agreed upon with the editors: in your first example, the words "members of the ... groups in Harvard" together with the exact description of who did what give you a very clear idea of the exact position held by each individual mentioned. The last example makes the reader wonder who that P. Ingrassia might be: janitor, secretary, technical assistant, student... I would be more explicit here. – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 11:28
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    I don't think people wonder or infer anything, except that these people are thanked for their help. I think you're overthinking this :) – F'x Sep 5 '13 at 11:32
  • I don't think that most of them even read the "thanks" sections, unless it is they who are mentioned there and I think you will agree that in this case you may expect any level of "overthinking". No real argument though: your point of view is as legitimate and sensible as mine :-). – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 11:37
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    in journals it is understood that, by default, the title is something like Dr. or Prof. — No, it isn't. It's understood that the authors did the work; that's all. So what if you thank the janitor? If the janitor helped, he helped. – JeffE Sep 5 '13 at 14:38
  • @JeffE: My father was a custodian, and he had a policy of never hurrying anyone out, even after closing time, but always greeting them with friendly words instead. For that, he got mentioned in Acknowledgements once. :^) – J.R. Sep 5 '13 at 21:20
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You should refer to him in the precise manner in which he wishes to be referred to, which you can only determine by asking him directly.

In other words: The same way you would refer to an academic person.

  • Yeah, but if he declares himself "the emperor of Earth", you are in trouble. :) My point was that a typical full title of an academic person is "Professor James, Lancroft University" and I wouldn't hesitate to refer to him this way without asking him any questions. Neither would I hesitate to refer to an industry person telling his exact position and affiliation as well (every reporter of every newspaper does exactly that). I do not mean that you are wrong, I just mean that for me the first sentence in your answer contradicts the second one (with which I agree). :) – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 2:34
  • @fedja I had been in industry for many years. Please allow me to clarify this answer. An academic person can hold the same title for many years while an industry person changes his title more often. Asking the referred industry person directly about his official title would be better. A dissertation is a serious official matter after all. – scaaahu Sep 5 '13 at 3:11
  • Thanks! Let me clarify too. I have never said that you shouldn't learn the exact title before using it or that asking a person for his title is a bad way to find it out when it is not written in big bold letters on his business card or in the company directory :). I just meant that my question would be structured somehow as "I am mentioning you in my paper and I would prefer to make it an official reference, so what exactly is your title at this moment?", not "How do you want to be called?". That's all :) – fedja Sep 5 '13 at 3:45
  • @fedja I agree. Why not make your comment above as a supplemental answer? It sounds a good one! – scaaahu Sep 5 '13 at 3:50
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As you're talking acknowledgements rather than co-authorships, you need to take into account journal style and be sensible and polite. If someone in industry has helped you, in company time or with company resources, you should acknowledge that. So "... would like to thank J Smith, XYZ corporation for ...", but if that doesn't fit with journal style guides, you could try "...would like to thank XYZ corporation for support, especially J Smith for valuable discussions".

A company may not get anything for helping you, except that a mention in the literature is good for their profile. Of course if you paid them for work, they could end up anywhere from not mentioned to co-authors depending on the contribution)

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