12

I am currently writing an e-mail to a member of Oxbridge staff. He is a "lecturer," full-time staff, who co-ordinates a well-known program, but does not hold a PhD, only an MA.

I can't call him "Dr. ," or even "Professor ," so is "Mr." sufficient? It seems too informal for someone in such a high-ranking position.

  • 2
    How about "Sir" ? – TCSGrad Jan 6 '14 at 8:13
  • 1
    There is a similar question academia.stackexchange.com/q/12346/546 , This one is specificly about UK (Oxbridge staff). I hesitate to vote to close as dupe yet. – scaaahu Jan 6 '14 at 8:50
  • 3
    I had this problem recently when I wanted to (verbally) ask an academic who happened to be sitting near me a question. I just decided to promote him to Dr :) – TheMathemagician Apr 1 '16 at 10:04
  • 1
    @mathreadler calling someone "Sir Firstname" would indicate a knight (or baronet), but "sir" without a name is just a respectful way to address a generic man. – Especially Lime Aug 24 '18 at 7:46
  • 1
    How about Heighness? ;) – famargar Jun 14 at 22:32
16

"Mr" should be fine (though note that British style drops the period from common honorifics). For example, Trinity College Cambridge's list of fellows has two "Mr"s and four "Ms"s.

However, be very sure that the lecturer you're emailing doesn't have a doctorate. Most Oxbridge (and I believe UK) lecturers are equivalent to some sort of professor in the US system, and the title of professor is generally reserved for academics somewhere between "regular member of teaching/research staff" and "department head". Accordingly, most UK lecturers do have a PhD.

If you're not sure, it's probably better to go with "Dr" rather than "Mr", as if you do get it wrong one way or the other, that's the one that's less likely to offend.

  • 4
    In the UK (and most other European countries) only full professors would be addressed as professor, where in the US associate professors would be (equivalent to UK Lecturer). – Paul de Vrieze Jan 8 '14 at 9:16
  • 6
    @paul: In fact, in the US, it's usual to address any academic as "Professor", including assistant professors, lecturers, instructors, adjuncts, etc. (Also, if I correctly understand the UK system, a US associate professor is closer to a UK reader.) – Nate Eldredge Jan 11 '14 at 18:26
  • 11
    UK style does not have a full stop for contractions, but does for truncations, hence Mr, Mrs, Dr, Prof., Col., etc. This does not apply only to honorifics, hence Lat., Gk, etc. – TRiG Jul 17 '14 at 16:31
5

It is better to amuse your addressee than risk causing offence. A journal editor addressed me as "Professor" in all email correspondence, even though I (twice) told him that I was only "Mr". This amused me and caused no offence. But I can imagine that addressing a real Doctor or Professor as "Mr" would not be well taken.

  • 2
    Not everyone would be amused by this... – einpoklum Dec 6 '17 at 21:50
  • The journal editor was probably dealing with dozens or hundreds of emails and didn't have time to register who said what regarding their title, so erred on the side of rounding up to "professor", routinely, to save a little bit of brain power for the actual thinking about the paper. – Eureka Apr 16 at 5:20
1

While the etiquette for salutations in formal letters is pretty well established, email etiquette is less clear. While this question on the English Language SE was not particularly well received, I particularly like this answer. The key part of that answer is that because of the prevalence of spam you need to establish who you are and why you are contacting the person as quickly as possible and not waste the valuable first line with a redundant salutation. If you drop the salutation (which some would say is the proper etiquette), you avoid the issue of how to address the individual.

  • 2
    Isn't that what the subject line is for? I delete emails based on subject line without even opening them... On the other hand, I consider the lack of any kind of adressing by an unknown person as rude (things are different in an email "conversation"). As the address line is usually followed by an empty line it is easily identified visually, so I don't consider it a waste of my time. For a student email requesting something it would add another point towards deleting... (I'm not based in the UK, though - and maybe we're more formal in this respect over here in Germany) – cbeleites Jan 6 '14 at 10:50
  • The argument in the answer you link to is a bit strange. A letter just like an e-mail usually or at least often also comes with all the contact information one needs (frequently even on the same sheet not only the envelope). If there is an argument that there is significant difference between a letter and an email it ought to be based on something else – quid Mar 4 '18 at 14:49
  • For your answer, due to spam and if not spam then email sent in bulk, there is also the issue of knowing if an email is actually (and specifically) addressed to the recipient. In that sense a proper salutation is also relevant. – quid Mar 4 '18 at 14:57
0

Mr. is fine. Don't worry it's not that big a deal just because they go to a famous university. They are still just regular people. Just be super polite in the tone of the email.

Option 2 is to avoid using the term "Mr.", and just to write simply "Hi", or "Dear Sir"

  • also you should be aware that consultant doctors (very high ranking surgeons) are properly referred to as "Mr" in the anglo-saxon world – user32587 Mar 4 '18 at 14:45
  • SURGEONS take on the title "Mr"/"Ms" etc, in UK (but not in US) because of the historical practice of barbers doing this work. PHYSICIANS do not do so, they stick with Dr. An additional note, it is not very high rank, and not limited to consultants. It is once they pass the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons exam, which happens about 3-4 years after choosing to be a surgeon rather than a physician. – Eureka Apr 14 at 12:10
  • 1
    Nice, great and informative answer – user32587 Apr 15 at 18:15
0

You probably have multiple aims here:

  1. to be polite
  2. to avoid being considered ridiculous
  3. to get your email read

First of all, do your research: how is the person you wish to approach described on their institution's website? In extreme cases you might wish to consult a modern book of etiquette. For example, if you were addressing yourself to "Professor, the Right Honourable, the Lord X" you need to know that 'Dear Lord X' is fine and that 'My Lord' is now ridiculous.

Secondly, do not go over the top in honorific titles. (I still giggle at once being addressed as 'Your Excellency' in an unsolicited email.)

Thirdly avoid generic titles without a name, such as 'Dear Professor' or, even worse, 'Dear Doctor'. 'Dear Sir' might once have been OK, but these days it feels as if the writer has not done their research.

All of the above will probably permit you to avoid offending the recipient. But remember that, in the UK at least, a doctorate is not necessarily a requirement for a senior academic position. I have known very renowned, actually world famous, academics who never proceeded beyond an undergraduate degree and also some whose published books established a reputation before they had the chance to finish a formal doctorate so they never bothered. Some of those might have been mildly offended at being addressed as 'Doctor.'

All of this points to finding out something about the person to whom you wish to write before actually doing so.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.