An Introduction to the Chicago Manual of Style

Tips on how to use the Chicago Manual of Style properly

A young female student is referencing the Chicago Manual of Style, with pen in hand.
With multiple style guides out there, learning
all of them can be a challenge. Our editors
explain the Chicago Manual of Style and offer
some helpful tips for using it.

Your professor has assigned you a paper and requested it be done using the Chicago Manual of Style. All well and good, you think; except, what is the Chicago Manual of Style? With all the different style guides out there—MLA, APA, Harvard—it can be hard to keep track of what's what.

What is the Chicago Manual of Style?

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS, CMOS, or Chicago) is a style guide for American English that covers topics from manuscript preparation to grammar, usage, and how to format citations. The CMS was first published in 1906 under the title Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago Press, to which are appended specimens of type in use. While its name has thankfully been shortened to Chicago Manual of Style, its content has grown from 200 pages in the first edition to 984 pages in the 15th edition. This most recent edition was published in 2003 and was updated to reflect the advancement of computer technology and the Internet. The Chicago Manual of Style now includes new sections on preparing e-publications and guidance on citing electronic sources.

Types of citations

If you've been asked to format a paper according to the CMS, then your instructor is most likely referring to citations. The Chicago Manual of Style has two different citation systems: the Notes-Bibliography System (NB), which is used in the arts and humanities, and the Author-Date System, which is used in physical, natural, and social sciences.

The Notes-Bibliography Citation System for arts and humanities

The NB system is most commonly used by those in the field of history. It involves citing sources using notes—footnotes or endnotes—and most often, supplementing the information with a bibliography. If a bibliography is included, then the in-text citations can be quite concise, even with the first citation for a particular work. The Chicago Manual of Style recommends using this method both to avoid duplicate information and to make things simple for the reader. If a bibliography is not used, then complete details for a work must be provided upon first mention. Check out our example of a Chicago Manual of Style bibliography.

Your bibliographic entry should look like this:

Christmas, Holly. Holidays, Traditions, and Celebrations: An Anthropological Study of Cross-Cultural Determinism. New York: Big Publishing House, 2008.

Your first citation note in a work with a bibliography should look like this:

1. Christmas, Holidays, Traditions, and Celebrations, 25.

Your first citation note in a work without a bibliography should look like this:

1. Holly Christmas, Holidays, Traditions, and Celebrations: An Anthropological Study of Cross-Cultural Determinism (New York: Big Publishing House, 2008), 25.

The Author-Date Citation System for the sciences

The Author-Date system is the system of documentation the Chicago Manual of Style recommends for use in the sciences. The sources are cited in the text—generally in parentheses—using the author's last name, the year of publication, and the page number if necessary. The full details of the source are then provided in a reference or works cited list.

Your in-text citation should look like this:

(Christmas 2008, 25)

Your reference list entry should look like this:

Christmas, H. 2008. Holidays, Traditions, and Celebrations: An Anthropological Study of Cross-Cultural Determinism. New York: Big Publishing House.

When unsure, cite anyway!

No matter which system is used, the Chicago Manual of Style advises that the most important factor in your citations is that sufficient information is provided to readers so they may find the sources themselves. It is also extremely important to cite all the sources you've used, lest you be accused of plagiarism. If you are unsure whether you've properly followed the Notes-Bibliography or Author-Date System, our student essay editors can perform a style check on your document.

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