As most non-fiction authors know, there are many citation styles available. Many of them are discipline specific (e.g., Modern Language Association for the humanities, American Psychological Association for the social sciences, etc.), and they vary in many different ways. Sometimes, however, you don’t know what citation style you should follow in your writing. For example, if you’re writing a casual article to publish online, there might not be a specific citation style required. For the times when no specific citation style is indicated, you will likely want to use the most basic and consistently known style, which is the Chicago Manual of Style, or CMS.
The Chicago Manual of Style was first published at the beginning of the twentieth century by the University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style is seen as the “go to” style guide for American English and is relied upon in many situations where other style guides provide vague guides or conflicting rules. The manual itself is available as a print publication and as an online publication, and can be purchased and used by any writer wishing to know the basics in American English writing style. The manual covers information specific to the publishing industry (proofreading marks, terminology review, etc.) and information for both professional and beginner writers (grammar guidelines, document preparation, etc.). Some of the most helpful sections of the Chicago Manual of Style include its review of commonly confused words (“Glossary of Troublesome Expressions”); its sections on punctuation, abbreviations, and use of numbers in writing; and its vast sections on incorporating research and quotations into writing.
The CMS “Glossary of Troublesome Expressions” can be particularly helpful for all writers, regardless of education level or writing experience. Often times, the way we speak is not necessarily the way that we should write, and many words and phrases that we use in casual conversation are not as accurate as we believe them to be. For example, many people use the expression “different than” to mention how two things are different. The expression should actually be “different from.” Example: “Sally’s running schedule is different from Samuel’s schedule.” One would use “than” when talking about two different actions. Example: “Sally runs differently than Samuel does.” This is just one example of the wealth of information one can get from the Chicago Manual of Style to improve the clarity and accuracy in writing.
Punctuation is one of the areas in writing that most people struggle with many times over. In particular, the use of commas and semi-colons seems to elude most writers. The Chicago Manual of Style covers their usage quite thoroughly and specifically. It provides numerous examples and a clarity in punctuation rules that is hard to find elsewhere. Style guides are important because they create a uniformity and consistency in writing across many writers and many different venues. The use of abbreviations and numbers in writing, for example, should be consistent to avoid confusion. The Chicago Manual of Style covers the basic rules and guidelines for using these items in writing. By following a common guide, writers from various disciplines, backgrounds, and experience levels can approach subject matter and the audience similarly and clearly.
As any college composition instructor will tell you, the incorporation of research into writing is one of the hardest skills to teach and to learn. Mastering citation styles is tricky and time consuming. The Chicago Manual of Style is a great source of information for citation because it breaks it down into an easy to understand distinction: (1) notes and bibliography or (2) author-date. When determining which of these two paths to follow, a writer should consider the subject matter and the nature of sources cited. Different groups of scholars favor different forms of citation. Note, also, that if your specific academic discipline might require a specific form of citation (e.g., APA Style, MLA Style, etc.). The Chicago Manual of Style, however, provides a great “quick and easy” source of citation guidelines and tips, and most of these are acceptable for basic citation purposes across the board.
Overall, the Chicago Manual of Style is a great resource for American writers. Becoming well versed in its guide to writing will enhance a writer’s abilities with language and research citation. It’s definitely a “go-to” resource for any writer using Standard American English!