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What is Chicago Style and How to Use It

HomeWritingWhat is Chicago Style and How to Use It
Chicago style

If you are a student, following Chicago style probably means using footnotes and bibliographic entries in accordance with the rules designed by The Chicago Manual of Style or those described in Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers. However, if you are an advanced student or a professional writer, this also implies adhering to their capitalization and punctuation rules, as well as creating captions for tables and graphs, formatting lists, and managing other aspects of the document based on the guidelines developed for this citation style.

For generations, college and university students have been using Turabian as the golden standard for formatting papers across different disciplines. It is a little smaller than CMS, thus it is easier to use; yet, it offers guidelines to the entire writing process, touching upon all aspects, from researching a topic and creating a paper outline to citing sources and completing different sections of academic papers. Whether you are working on a research paper or dissertation, this style manual will be helpful.

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The CMS is far more than a mere citation guide for professional editors and writers as it provides pieces of advice for the writing and editing process from A to Z. Specifically, it covers grammar and punctuation rules, explains how to prepare images for publication, how to index tables and graphs, etc. CMOS, which was developed more than a hundred years ago, is a helpful companion to students and professionals globally.

Although these citation styles look alike, there are small differences and discrepancies, which suggest that student papers are usually not meant for publication.
First published by the Chicago University Press in 1906, CMOS represents the common grammar and punctuation rules in standard US English. There are two basic systems of sources presented in this style, namely:

  • notes and bibliography
  • author-date.

The choice between the two is dependent on the topic of the paper and the nature of the sources used by the author, and different groups of scholars prefer different systems.

In particular, students and professionals specializing in humanitarian studies, such as literature, arts, and history, tend to use the notes and bibliography citation method. In this case, bibliographic information is represented in footnotes and on the page with a bibliography.

No matter which of the two methods you have to use, the teacher will expect your paper to be neatly formatted and laid out correctly. Achieving this will be easier if you use the correct settings from the start because you will not have to reformat the whole paper when it is finished.

Turabian vs. Chicago Style

These styles are similar but not identical.

Turabian is the style developed by Kate L. Turabian. It is described in her Manual.
In essence, this is a simplified modification of the CMOS developed by a student, so it is typically used by high-school and college students, who do not have to prepare dissertations and other major scholarly publications at this point in their academic path.
CMOS, on the other hand, is for scholars and professional publishers. However, both books are officially used in academic writing.

Chicago is the Chicago Manual of Style. The complete guidelines can be found in The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (CMOS).

Although Turabian adheres to the Chicago style, it is its much shorter version. Examples of citations in this preferred by many students formatting style can be easily found online. Below, you can find a short description that will guide you at the initial stages of your work.

In general, both books offer almost identical rules, with the only difference that Turabian explains the research process in detail along with describing paper formatting rules, while CMOS focuses solely on formatting and publication processes. The choice between the two depends on the purpose and level of your work.

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I Have to Format My Class Paper in Chicago Style. What Should I Do?

The following are the basic guidelines for setting up a Chicago formatted academic paper using the guidelines developed by K. Turabian. For more details, consult the appendices in the Section A1 of the Manual, 9th ed.

You can also visit Turabian.org if you need a complete list of tips for formatting your paper.

Remember: instructors may provide students with additional formatting and citation guidelines, which must be used along with Chicago’s recommendations. Do not forget to check those before writing your paper.

Page size and margins

The rules of page formatting are similar across standard citation styles. In particular, students have to use a readable font, typical indentation, and space lining and make sure they are consistent throughout the paper. In addition, there might be specific requirements for papers intended for publication in print journals.

Use the drop-down menus in the Page Layout section in MS Word to adjust the paper size and margins.

♦ A typical US size for a paper is 8½ × 11 inches.

♦ Set 1-inch margins. In some cases, you may need to leave extra space for binding, so you will have to include an extra half-inch on the left side.

Page numbering

♦ Go to the Page Number menu in your word processor. If you are using MS Word, you will find it in the Insert menu. Traditionally, page numbers are located in the top right corner of a page.

♦ In a Chicago-formatted paper, there is no page number on the title page, so you will have to click Different First Page in the page numbering settings.

♦ If you want the page numeration to start from the second page omitting the title page, open Format Page Numbers, and enter ‘0’ in the box next to “Start at”.

Font (typeface)

♦ Choose a font that is readable and available, for instance, TNR or Arial. Arial 10 pt is the same size as TNR 12 pt.)

Indentation and Spacing

♦ The main text must be double spaced.

♦ Figure captions and the titles of tables must be single-spaced. The following have to be single-spaced, as well (but add a blank line before every item):

  • The table of contents
  • Footnotes or endnotes
  • The list of references

Similar to the citations in the text, source citations in CMOS come in two versions:

  • notes and bibliography
  • author-date.

If the instructor told you which system to choose, visit the website mentioned above to see the samples and tips.
The following information will be helpful for those of you who do not know which method they have to use.

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Notes and Bibliography or Author-Date: Which Should I Choose?

Many humanitarians prefer the notes and bibliography method, in which sources are cited with the help of footnotes or endnotes (less common). While using this system, a writer adds a superscript number (there is a special feature in MS Word) to cite a source. The paper is accompanied by a complete list of sources, titles Bibliography. The entries appear in the bibliographic order. Pay attention to the differences in formatting entries in the footnotes and on the bibliography page. Remember that there is also a shortened version of notes for sources that are cited more than once within the text. Previous editions of CMOS used ‘ibid.’ for such sources but more recent editions do not recommend it any longer. This citation method accommodates a wide range of sources, even those, which might not fit in the author-date system.

Researchers and students dealing with social and natural sciences typically use the author-date method, which allows them to briefly cite the sources in the text (the author’s last name and publication date in parentheses). The full bibliographic information is provided on the reference page. Each in-text citation must have a corresponding entry in the list of references.

Despite the differences in the parenthetical and numbered notes references, the two methods belong to the same style. Use the links above to see the examples of the common sources cited in each of the methods.

The choice of the system frequently depends on the requirements of the publisher. Apart from that, each discipline has its conventions. If you need more information on which method to choose, click here.

Refer to chapters 14 and 15 the CMOS guide for a detailed explanation of the two systems and more examples.

Remember to contact your instructor if you are not sure which style to use.

See chapters 16-17 and 18-19 of the 9th edition of the Turabian manual for a comprehensive description of the notes and bibliography method and the author-date method respectively.

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