Your New Go-To Guide on the Chicago Style Citation

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Originally published Feb 09, 2021, updated May 19, 2021
Your New Go-To Guide on the Chicago Style Citation

Your latest writing assignment requests you format the final paper according to the Chicago style. Unaware of what that refers to, you do a quick Google search and still do not find the answers you are looking for. Our handy guide covers the questions you have about the writing format and a quick rundown of how to implement it.

What Is the Chicago Style?

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS), colloquially shortened to Chicago style, establishes written communication standards like formatting, stylistic techniques, and citation structure. The style is usually adopted by Social Sciences, History, English, and Art students as they prepare to publish a manuscript. You may come across Turabian, which is a version of Chicago style that is aimed at students and researchers. Using the Chicago style organizes the writer’s thoughts into a recognizable format, allowing the reader to easily follow along or scan the document for information they are interested in.

The style was created to implement common US English grammar and punctuation rules that the University of Chicago Press updates to keep up with trends. It’s one of the first commonly used writing formats, and the style’s rich history spans over one hundred years. Although it’s not as widely used by undergraduates now, CMS is commonly used in book and academic publishing. That’s where it differs greatly from APA and MLA – two of the more common writing formats which are used in academic writing for education instead of within publishing.

Our quick guide covers rules set by the most recent (17th edition) of the Manual released in 2017 and primarily focuses on the Notes-Bibliography System (NB). In-depth information about the format, style guides, and more can be found at the Chicago Manual of Style online

General Format

Your paper should be typed and the text consistently double-spaced, with a few exceptions (block quotations, bibliography entries, notes, figures, and table labels). Page margins should be at least 1 inch all around, and the font you use needs to be readable.

You can use any typeface you prefer, maybe Courier or Times New Roman, as long as the font size is between 10pt and 12pt (depending on which font you choose). Each page will need a page number either at the top right or bottom center – one or the other, but not both.

Your text should be left-aligned and not justified – which makes the left side of the page organized, but the right side of the page will have a varying pattern of end words. When beginning a new paragraph, the first line needs to have a 0.5-inch indent from the left. That way, your sections do not require an extra line between them, but there’s enough differentiation that the reader knows where one thought ends and the other begins.

As with most papers, yours needs to be organized to include a Title Page, a body of text, and a page for References. What makes the Chicago style 17th ed. unique is the addition of footnotes. Let’s look at what’s expected for each section:

Title Page

Most published articles do not require a title page, but your professor may expect one for your course – be sure to confirm with them. If they state that your paper does not require a title page, having a line for the title and then immediately going into the main body should suffice.

If you do need a title page, here are a few tips according to the Turabian style:

  • All text on the article title page should be centered, have the same font as the rest of your text, and double space.
  • You want your text to be 1/3 of the way from the top of the page, bold, and in headline capitalization.
  • If you have a subtitle, add a colon after the main title and provide the subtitle in a new line. Your subtitle should also be centered, in the same font and size as the title, double space, and bold.
  • About 2/3 from the top of the page, begin including details that your instructor has requested, like the course name and number, the instructor’s name, the assignment due date. Any information you add needs to be on its own line and in the same font and size as the title but not bold.
  • If you have a title page, it does not have a page number nor contribute to the total number of pages. Page 1 begins with the main body of the text.

Main Body

This section of the paper contains the heart of your opinions on the main topic. Depending on what you write about, you can include figures and tables within your work to illustrate your point. Before you can get lost in your thoughts, there are a few things that CMS requests your final work contains:

Headings

Much like your title, each heading you have should use headline capitalization. For example: “Summary of Results” instead of “Summary of results.” If you have many levels of headings (subheadings within subheadings within headings), choose a pattern that differentiates the various groups.

However you choose to present this distinction, be sure to have your heading stand out more than your subheading. A common pattern is showing the Chapter title in a larger font, bold the section headings, and italicizing subheadings.

Quotes

CMS differentiates between short quotations (which we cover under in-text citations) and longer block quotations. The manual suggests that prose quotations of five or more lines, or poetry of two or more lines, should be presented as block quotes.

Blockquotes do not require quotation marks to surround them, but you can highlight this text by inserting a blank line before and after the quote and indent the entire block an extra 0.5 inches from the left. All text within this block is single-spaced. For example:

In “Milk and Honey,” Rupi plays with sentence structure while expressing her thoughts on life’s moments:

            the world

            gives you

            so much pain

            and here you are

            making gold out of it

In-Text Citations

As mentioned earlier, Chicago provides rules for two citation styles: author-date and notes and bibliography.

Author-date citations have the reference within parenthesis next to the text. As long as the reference includes the author and the year of publication, you have some flexibility over how to create the citation. For example, Davis (2016) argues that the theory is “alright.” Other inventors have contradicted the assessment (Lee 2017; Johnson et al. 2018).

Notes and bibliography citations follow a different pattern. Instead of adding information within parenthesis, you add a superscript number next to the text you want to cite, much like the text on Wikipedia. The actual citation will appear within the footnotes or endnotes.

Footnotes

There are also two types of Chicago footnotes. You have full notes that contain all the publication details and short notes that only include the author’s last name, a shortened version of the title, and the page or chapter number – whichever is more relevant.

The guidelines to use short and long notes vary across fields, so be sure to check in with your superiors. A standard method is to use the full citation the first time it appears in a text, and all subsequent references to the same source will be in the short notes style. For example, the first time you quote “Life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end” from Virginia Woolf’s “Modern Fiction,” you may use:

1. Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in Selected Essays, ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 11.

If you need to cite the same page in Woolf’s book only a few paragraphs later, you can update the superscript number and use the following in the footnotes:

2. Woolf, “Modern Fiction”, 11.

If you want to combine sources, you can do so without multiple footnotes. Instead of writing 1,2,3, you can combine citations in one footnote that are separated by a semicolon. For example:

1. Hulme, “Romanticism and Classicism”; Eliot, The Waste Land; Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” 11.

The first author you cite depends on whose work you quote first. If your reference has more than one author, you can list their names separated by a comma and an “and” before the last author’s name.

If your reference has some missing information, like a missing page number, fill out the citation to the best of your ability by providing other identifiers like chapter titles (abbreviation: chap.) or paragraphs (abbreviation: par.).

The numbers associated with the citations begin with 1 for the first reference of the article and get numbered consecutively through the rest of the paper. The numbering does not restart with a new page or chapter unless your instructor says otherwise.

As the name may suggest, footnotes appear at the end of the page or clause. It’s a great way to highlight the full citation without flipping to the back of the book and looking for the relevant reference. 

Endnotes

Sometimes you need to cite many sources and run out of space at the bottom of the page. That’s where an endnotes section is helpful. Endnotes appear at the end of the text, between chapters, or before the bibliography page and are a great way to include citations that did not make it to the footnotes section of the original page.

Citations in the endnotes area are formatted in the same way as the footnotes section unless you were instructed to update it.

Table and Figures

Including images of what you are writing about or a table that summarizes your main points are great ways to break up large pieces of text. It keeps your reader engaged as they digest your words. To keep their focus on the topic, insert tables and figures soon after you reference them – at least on the same page if not within a few sentences.

You may have multiple helpful pictures or tables throughout your piece. You can number each image consecutively as they appear in your paper. Be sure to add a caption or short description of the table or illustration right next to the figure or table number.

If you did not take the image or create the table, you could include the source/s in your credit line. You can cite your sources as you would for a parenthetical citation at the end of your caption and have more information available in your Bibliography section.

Your image can take many forms, so cite it appropriately. For example, i.e., map by, photo by, etc.

Suppose your table or image contains data from multiple sources that you combined and not the original table/image author. In that case, you can include extra information in an unnumbered footnote. You can introduce the note with the word “Source(s)” italicized and followed by a colon. Then include the source’s complete information and close the note with a period.

Bibliography

Most papers have a reference list, works cited, or bibliography style page to organize all citations used throughout the text. If you follow the notes and bibliography system, you’ll refer to this section as “Bibliography.” If you follow the author-date system, you’ll call the bibliography page a “Reference” list and add the date of publication immediately after the author’s name.

Although a bibliography is not required under the CMS format, it’s recommended for all but extremely short papers. The page provides the reader an overview of other work that is relevant to yours.

Your Chicago-style bibliography page will have full citations organized according to the author’s last name unless you use multiple source types. If your source does not have a named author, alphabetize by the first word of the title or organization’s name. If you follow that method, you can ignore articles such as “a”, “the”, “an”, for the purpose of alphabetization.

The bibliography page begins with the title “Bibliography” centered and bold at the top of the page. Unlike the rest of your document, this page will not have the double-space format, but each citation is separated by a single line between entries and a single space within the reference.

Citations have all publication information you can provide: the authors and piece’s information, publication date, and publishing house.

If your bibliographic information is longer than one line, subsequent lines are indented to allow the reader to know where one reference ends and the other begins. For example:

Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain. Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter and G. Barham.           

           London: Vintage, 1999.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Online Source

Citing web pages follows a similar pattern to referencing physical works. You begin with the author's name and then include the page title and website name. You will also include the publication date according to month-day-year format, followed by the URL. For example:

Bryson, Shane. “Word Order Rules in English.” Scribbr. Last modified February 20, 2019. 

           https://www.scribbr.com/academic-writing/word-order-rules-in-english/.

The citation format remains true when referencing an online newspaper article, research papers, or journal articles.

Author Names

Unlike the footnotes, author names in the bibliography section are inverted, with last names represented first followed by the author’s first name. This is the only section with inverted names – all subsequent names follow the traditional first name, last name order.

If your source has up to 10 authors, list them according to how they appear in the published material. Each name is separated with a comma, and the last author’s name is preceded with an “and.” If there are more than ten authors, you can list the first seven and follow with an “et al.”

If you are citing multiple works by the same author, only include the author’s name in the first entry. In all following entries, place three em dashes where the name usually goes, followed by the rest of the citation. You can organize the entries in alphabetical order. For example:

Rhys, Jean. Good Morning, Midnight. London: Penguin, 2000.

---. Quartet. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

---. Wide Sargasso Sea. London: Penguin, 1997.

Final Checklist

The overall rules for the Chicago style tend to overlap with other common writing styles. Let’s talk about what to look over to ensure you’re following the correct format:

  • Having a footnotes section with the author’s first name followed by their last name;
  • “Bibliography” instead of “References” and the section is single-spaced;
  • Block quotes.

And that’s everything you need to know about the Chicago format. You are now ready to write an incredible CMS paper.

Tasha Kolesnikova
Content Team Member

I write articles and do SEO-optimisation here at Studybay. I'm obsessed with creating content both people and Google love, surfing in Portugal, and dancing Jazz-funk.