Why Would Anyone Use The Chicago Manual of Style?

Today's topics are style guides and how to deal with book titles.

Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #364
Chicago Manual of Style

Today's topics are style guides and how to deal with book titles.

Joe called in with this question:

With all of the style guides that are out there —“APA,” “MLA” —why would anyone use Chicago? I was finding it very hard to believe when I first looked at the Chicago style guide after the APA and MLA that the Chicago style guide that was something that was used by anything less than a commercial writer. Possibly on someone's doctoral thesis, but for an undergraduate to have to deal with that kind of detail just seems ridiculous. Just wanting to hear your opinion on this.

What Is the Chicago Manual of Style?

The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the oldest and most comprehensive style guides on the market. The fact that it is so comprehensive can be both a strength and a weakness, and Joe points out the weaknesses: it can take a while to find what you are looking for, and the size of the book can be intimidating to students. Nevertheless, I find it indispensable because it has so much information that I can't find anywhere else.

You Can Use Online or Print Versions

A huge, recent change that makes Chicago and many other style guides easier to use is the availability of online and digital versions of the books.

I used to use the print books, and I often had a hard time finding the information I needed. A few years ago, I started subscribing to the online versions of The Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook, and now I can search and find the answers I’m looking for in seconds. It’s a little more expensive than buying the print books, but for me, and I imagine for many people who write for a living, it’s worth it for the convenience.

In the past, I used to start with a smaller stylebook such as AP and then go to Chicago if I couldn’t find the answer, but now it’s so easy to search both that I always check both right away.

Benefits of the Chicago Manual of Style

Joe should appreciate Chicago’s completeness though; Chicago often has information that isn’t in other stylebooks. For example, in his question, Joe shortened the name of the book to Chicago instead of calling it The Chicago Manual of Style. As I was writing this article, I needed to know how to format a shortened book title. That information wasn’t in the AP Stylebook, but it was in Chicago. (I learned that you treat a shortened title just as you would a regular title—you italicize it, or in the case of Grammar Girl style, it is just captialized because that is how we treat the titles of reference works).

It turned out that the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers also had a section on shortened book titles, so in this case I could have looked there next and found the answer, but often I just jump to Chicago because it’s so complete I know the answer will always be there.

Another example of something I could find only in Chicago is how to handle punctuation in bulleted or numbered lists. I couldn't quickly find anything on this subject in MLA or AP, but it is covered in Chicago.

These types of questions might seem arcane, but for me they come up every day, and I imagine that they would come up at least occasionally for other writers, including undergraduates.

Next: Which Style Guide Should You Use?


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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