Although you probably conduct most of your written communication via email, you may encounter a scenario where you need to send a letter or a card to a Ph.D. holder; knowing how to properly address the envelope is critical.
Scenario 1: You meet a man with a Ph.D. at a social engagement, and you want to send him a letter requesting mentorship.
Scenario 2: You conduct an informational interview with a married woman who holds a Ph.D. in a field you want to explore, and you want to send her a thank you card.
Scenario 3: You want to invite a couple (each person holds a Ph.D.) to a formal event.
What is the correct way to address the envelope? Is it similar to how you’d address a medical doctor or a dentist? If you’re friends with the person, should you even include a title?
What Is a Ph.D.?
A Ph.D. is a “doctor of philosophy” degree, referred to as “PhD” and “Ph.D.”
It is the highest degree that a university or college awards. Colleges and universities confer Ph.D.s in numerous fields such as computer science, psychology and communication. Ph.D. holders often teach at the university level because they're experts in their respective fields.
Getting the Title Right
When addressing an envelope to a Ph.D. holder, be sure to include the title, even if the person is a friend. The only exception would be if the person has asked for the title to be excluded.
On the envelope, write the person’s name, a comma and “Ph.D.” For example, if you wanted to send a card to Chanell Johnson, you’d write:
"Chanell Johnson, Ph.D."
You would not need to indicate her marital status on the envelope.
What If the Ph.D. Is Married?
If Chanell were married, and you wanted to send an invitation to her and her partner (who share the same last name), you would use “Dr.” in front of her name. Her partner’s name would follow.
"Dr. Chanell and Mr. Stephen Johnson" or "Dr. Chanell and Mrs. Stephanie Johnson"
If Chanell were married, and she and her partner had different last names, you'd use a similar format.
"Dr. Chanell Johnson and Mr. Stephen Smith" or "Dr. Chanell Johnson and Mrs. Stephanie Smith"
Addressing a Couple With Two Ph.D.s
If Chanell and her partner shared the same last name and held Ph.D.s, you’d acknowledge both degrees by using the plural of Doctor and omitting their first names.
"The Doctors Johnson"
If they did not share the same last name, you'd write:
"Dr. Chanell Johnson and Dr. Stephanie Smith" or "Dr. Chanell Johnson and Dr. Stephen Smith"
One More Tip
While communication etiquette is less formal today than fifty years ago, it’s still better to err on the side of formality when addressing doctors. Why risk offending someone when you could applaud her accomplishments instead?
The card or letter inside the envelope would simply say, “Dear Dr. Johnson."
- The Emily Post Institute: Guide to Addressing Correspondence
- The Knot: Q&A: Invitations: Addressing One to a Professor?
- The Emily Post Institute: Professional Titles
- Boston.com: “Dr. and Mr.” or “Mr. and Dr.”? Which is correct?
- Dictionary.com: Ph.D. Definition
- Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary: PhD Definition