There have been a few circumstances where I've had to email an authority at my school and didn't know whether they had a PhD (e.g. An instructor of mine who I knew had been a PhD candidate a few years earlier, but perhaps graduated since then). In these cases, should I address the person as Dr.?

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    Often you can find out by searching their name online (social media, personal webpages, etc).
    – mikeazo
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:52
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    @mikeazo yeah I tried that; I didn't find anything.
    – Hal
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 16:58
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    This question depends a lot on the culture of your professor. In France, I’ve never addressed any of my professor as “Doctor” or “Professor”, including by mail (I used “Monsieur” or “Madame” whenever I did not know them personally). I believe it would seem quite vain to demand so. I’ve even chuckled with a (young) PhD holder when they told me that a (Canadian) hotel staff was actually calling them Dr.
    – Édouard
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 19:43
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    This is something I like about going to university in Australia. Everyone is on a first name basis, even your professors. Most actually dislike being called Dr X or Mr X.
    – Loocid
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 23:23
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    Just write an if statement. if{has PHD}then Doctor; elseif {Male} then Mr.; elseif {Married} then Mrs.; else Ms. and then they choose the correct one accordingly Commented May 28, 2015 at 8:26

9 Answers 9


I always use Dr. ______ whenever I am e-mailing someone at a university and do not know if they have a doctorate.

  1. If they do have a doctorate, I haven't insulted them.

  2. If they don't, they chuckle and are pleased.

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    I do the same when emailing anyone working in a research context. The risk analysis is hard to refute.
    – hBy2Py
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:24
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    I leave out the salutation since I hope they know who they are and start with the the more important thing of who I am or what I want.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 17:36
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    @StrongBad: Of course the addressee knows who he or she is. The salutation is a courtesy, and it demonstrates you have taken the trouble to find out who this person is. If you want a busy person to pay attention to you and your very important problem, a little politeness goes a long way. Commented May 27, 2015 at 18:47
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit unless of course you haven't taken the trouble to find out who they are.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 20:14
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    I always found it really bizarre and uncomfortable, rather than funny or flattering, to be addressed as "Dr." before I got my degree. Even now I still find it excessively formal.
    – Reid
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 4:03

In my opinion it strongly depends on the culture. In Switzerland we use solely "Herr"/"Frau" (Mr/Mrs) to address even professors. If you have a look at the history of the country you get an idea why titles of any kind are somewhat frowned upon. However, in Germany the situation is already different and at least under certain circumstances the title is to be used in the address. In Austria it's even sort of a must as I got to hear. At least some people were somewhat sulky when I failed to do so :)

I do not know what role titles play in other places of the world.

  • Seems clear from the question that the OP is in a place where people with PhDs are typically referred to as Dr (and people without them aren't) - do you have any advice about that situation?
    – Cascabel
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 23:51
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    It's not that clear. He's asking whether to use the title or not in the address. But that does not imply whether he's living in a place where it's important. It could as well be, that it's not even an issue and he's worrying in vain. Commented May 28, 2015 at 9:30
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    At least in Germany, conventions differ by academic field, too.
    – Raphael
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 12:27
  • @Raphael: please clarify that?
    – smci
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 6:22
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    @smci In my experience, jurists value appearances much more than mathematicians, to name just one example. It starts with clothing, and does not end with emphasising titles.
    – Raphael
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 19:40

It is not a secret who has a PhD. You should ideally do your research and find out.

If you don't do that you run a risk either way. If they don't have a PhD it's very unlikely to offend, but as Logan says, you aren't doing yourself any favours in creating an impression...

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    My university has a public site listing its researchers and their accomplishments. Course profiles also list teaching staff, including their titles. It's only a couple of minutes' work to do the research and be reasonably confident in it; is that not common elsewhere?
    – David Lord
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 5:36
  • @DavidLord In countries or fields where "yielding" titles is less common, an academic website may not state the title prominently. One would have to dig through the site to find mention of a dissertation, but the lack of that entry does not mean they don't have one. Not all researchers have CVs on their websites, either. So that research may be time-intensive and unreliable; I agree that one should do their best, though.
    – Raphael
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 12:30
  • ... and if it isn't easy to find out, then they can hardly be offended by not being address by it! :) Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 4:11

If you don't know who the person is then there is no point of insult in normal greeting; however if you try this with non-phd person it may appear that you are trying to butter the person or show you in lesser light; as a person of lower intellectual capability; as everybody appears to be a dr to you.

Lastly even if you know a person has the phd; it shouldn't insult him/her if they are your coworkers or boss; remember mgmnt in software cos usually encourage usage of first name and encourage casual informal relationships so as to foster stronger working ties (you don't want your coworker to be afraid or in awe of you so that they don't use their brains or agree blindly to whatever you say); as in a professional situation you all have the same goal and job; while in academics phd's ,post-doctoral guys are the knowledge searchers creators and you are the learners; it may insult them if they are your teachers/professors as that relationship is much different than a Professional relationship.

  • If you are a law firm and contacting your client who needs your services;then no matter if your phd client is Extremely busy he will listen to you; it will be same if he is providing you a service and you are paying for it. If the phd doesnt pay attention then it would be an unprofessional mistake.However , if you are a student applying for internship or to a university you may want to act polite :)
    – Logan
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 18:58
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    I've talked to my admin staff about how they get referred to as "Dr. ____" in e-mails and they said they just smile and move on. They don't think that the sender is trying to butter them up -- they simply don't know whether they have a doctorate or not. Given that a great deal of admin staff at universities do have doctorates, it's not a unfounded assumption.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 19:23

Well, I have a letter envelope from the D. E. Knuth addressing me as "Professor". Which is several steps above what I could actually be claiming. He (or his secretary) probably preferred erring on the safe side over guessing whether my lack of using titles was due to modesty.

Now putting suspected titles on the envelope and leaving them off in the communication itself may actually be not a bad idea since then any possible embarrassment does not accumulate with multiple mentions but you still bring across that you consider the recipient capable/likely to have some degree.

At any rate: if you cannot find any titles in material you are able to find of the person in question, chances are that he/she is not all that obsessive about having his titles attached to his name whenever possible even in case he may have claim to them.

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    In the US, anyone teaching, from a TA all the way up to a full Professor, can be called Professor, while only those with doctorates (e.g., MD and PhD) can be called Doctor.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 8:21
  • Curious. I, too, have a letter (and check!) from Knuth, but it doesn't make that same mistake. I wonder if there was some difference in who composed it, when, etc. Mine's from a few years ago. Commented May 29, 2015 at 4:57
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    I've never heard of TAs being addressed as Professor.
    – Reid
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 17:02

In the UK, it is common to simply address academics by their name, without a title. "Dear Firstname" if you know them personally, or "Dear Firstname Lastname" to be slightly more formal or if e-mailing someone outside of your department. I would use however "professor" or "Dr" in more formal correspondence (such as appeals or anything by post) assuming I was certain of their title, but there is no harm in omitting it.

So to answer your question: I would in most circumstances omit the title even if I knew it, and it is common in the UK to do so, though there is no harm in using it. If you don't know, "Dear Name Name" will suffice.


It is better you inquire their background before mailing them. No confusions could arise then.


Address the person by her academic role if she has one. For example, if she is a a professor, say "Dear Professor" or "Hi Professor". If she is an instructor but not a professor try "Dear Instructor".

I did this with my daily supervisor who was a professor but did not have a PhD in my early correspondence with him and it worked fine.

  • That's an anecdote, not an answer.
    – Raphael
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 12:30

No, just put Mr. if a man or Ms. if a woman. Phd are not doctors. Phd is a research degree and its not a professional title to call them doctors. Only doctors to be called doctors.

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    Ehm, you are aware what the D in PhD stands for?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 10:51

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