New Questions and Answers

Q. The following wording seems problematic to me: “Additional software may be required to use the fingerprint reader.” This could be interpreted to mean that the software might have to use the fingerprint reader. Your thoughts?

A. There is certainly room for misunderstanding. Transposing into the active voice might help: The fingerprint reader may require additional software.

Q. My company has a handbook called The Standards and Expectations Handbook. We intend to call it “the handbook” for short. When written, should “the Handbook” be capitalized to denote that we’re talking about the specific book, or should it be lowercase?

A. You can do it either way. Here we write “the Manual” when referring to CMOS (italic, because it’s a shortened italic title), but it wouldn’t be wrong to call it “the manual.”

Q. In my footnotes, I want to cite something as well as explain what it is I have cited, because I do not want to insert the info in the body of my paragraph. How do I do this? Does the citation go first or the explanation?

A. Put your citation first and the explanation after. (When an explanation comes first in a note, a citation after it might appear to be in support of the explanation rather than in support of something in the text.)

Q. Hello, my question concerns hyphenating the term “anti-Second Amendment.” Wherever I see it, it is hyphenated as in my first sentence, but if the purpose of the hyphen is to let the reader know which of the words are linked, then “anti Second-Amendment” would seem to make more sense. But my spelling checker flags this alternate hyphenation. Is this an instance where we would be justified breaking the rule?

A. First, capitalized proper nouns are rarely hyphenated. The job of a hyphen is to link two words. The capital letters in a proper noun do that job very well; a hyphen is usually overkill. Second, Chicago style does not use a hyphen to link a prefix (like anti-) to an open compound. We require an en dash (anti–Second Amendment), because a hyphen would link only anti and Second, leaving us with an amendment that is “anti-Second.”

Q. How do I present the first mention of an in-text cited source which is normally referred to with initials? Specifically, AAALAC, which is the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. Is this correct? (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care [AAALAC] 2011)

A. You could do that, although it would be more elegant to introduce the initialism in the text than in a citation. Note too that if you are going to use “AAALAC 2011” thereafter as your citation (which seems practical), the reference list entry must go under AAALAC, rather than under Association.

Q. Greetings, Wise Ones—House style at our university press is to omit the period after contractions such as Dr or Mrs and omit periods in abbreviated names of countries, organizations, etc. Question: When faced with a careless author whose transcriptions of source material cannot be easily verified, do we let these inconsistencies in quoted material stand or impose house style and omit periods throughout? Does this fall under the umbrella of permissible silent changes?

A. Explain the issue and ask the writer to check the original quotations for accuracy. If this is impossible, an editor must be very careful in changing quotations. We would not recommend editing all quotations to conform to house style. If you were to impose an unusual style like removing all periods from quotations, discerning readers would immediately sense that the quotations had been tampered with. Rather, if the style in a given quotation is inconsistent in a minor way and can’t be checked, the prevailing style in that quote (not house style) could be followed in making a silent change or two to correct what are probably typos. If the inconsistencies are extensive or notable in any way, however, the use of sic or a comment on the issues might be more appropriate than silently correcting them.

Q. How do I cite a Google Forms survey that I have conducted for my research paper in Chicago format?

A. State the title and add that it was a Google Forms survey. If the survey has a URL, you can give it, along with the dates you gave the survey.

Q. There is no guidance in the manual to settle a difference between editors and a graphic designer about the interior design of books. Our audience is educators. The graphic designer makes the back of the title page (with copyright and ordering information) part of the design, uses fancy font in the headers of body text, etc. The introductory chapter has a photo occupying two-thirds of the page. I contend that the visuals dominate the text and distract the reader. She contends that pages of gray print are not appealing.

A. A classic standoff! You might have to pick your battles. Argue firmly when it comes to protecting the text where the design actually causes trouble and confusion, and try to let go of the aesthetic issues for now. After all, your educators might like a jazzy treatment. Distraction isn’t always bad; it can be a little break from academic tedium.

If you work with this designer frequently, and if you feel that her design approach isn’t appropriate for your books, try to get some specific feedback on the finished product. See how book reviewers receive it, or poll some educators in exchange for free copies. If others agree that the design is inappropriate for the audience, and if you have any choice in the matter, ask for a different designer.

Q. Hello, how do I cite an electronic thesis that I found on the web?

A. Cite this as you would any other dissertation (see CMOS 14.224 for examples), but include a URL. For documents retrieved from a commercial database, give the name of the database and add, in parentheses, any identification number supplied or recommended by the database.

Q. For a poster, is the following correct, “Friday June 17th 8:00 pm,” or does there need to be a comma between Friday and June?

A. If the words are all set on the same line in the same type size and color, then yes, you need a comma after Friday. Chicago style does not put th after the day: “June 17” says it perfectly. You also need a comma after the date, and Chicago style uses periods in p.m.:

Friday, June 17, 8:00 p.m.

The same information could appear on a poster without any punctuation, however, if the position, type size, color, or other design elements clearly separate day, date, and time.

Q. When writing about the town in Massachusetts, should I use Foxboro or Foxborough? The latter is the technical, legal name; the former is what everybody (USPS included) prefers and actually uses.

A. Choose one and explain your choice. For instance: They lived in Foxboro, Massachusetts (officially Foxborough, although that spelling is largely ignored).

Q. I received a lease agreement and am questioning the meaning of one line in it. The line says, “Landlord will be responsible for any structural or major maintenance and repairs, other than routine maintenance and repairs that are not due to Tenant’s misuse.” I believe this means that the landlord will not be responsible for repairs that are not due to tenant’s misuse, whereas I’m being told that it means that the landlord will not be responsible for repairs that are due to tenant’s misuse.

A. That messy sentence is almost impossible to figure out. It appears to be an instance of misnegation; the writer probably didn’t mean what the sentence actually says. Unfortunately, I’m afraid you need a lawyer, not a style guide.

May Q&A

Q. How does one, using a word processor, make an em dash/en dash distinguishable from a hyphen?

A. You might have noticed that when you type two hyphens with no spaces around them in MS Word, your computer turns them into an em dash if your automatic formatting settings are on. (If you type spaces around the hyphens, Word supplies an en dash.) You can type an em dash on purpose using the keystrokes Control+Alt+Minus (the Minus key is on the numeric keypad). To type an en dash, try Control+Minus. Or go to Insert > Symbol  > More Symbols, and click on the Special Characters tab to find both of these marks and others. For Mac applications and those other than Word, search online for “type [punctuation mark] in [your application].”

Q. I’m proofreading a manuscript and would like to know what the rule is for formatting a drop initial cap if the remaining text is in italics because it’s an exhibition title. The title is in italics, but the starting letter is a drop cap and is in roman. Is that OK, or should the cap be in italics as well?

A. Truly, there is no rule. A graphic designer might be the best person to rule on the aesthetics of roman versus italics in this case, since a happy result depends largely on the typeface, size, and position of the drop cap.

Q. The acronym NVM stands for “non-volatile memory.” The acronym NVMe stands for NVM Express. Unfortunately, the first mention of NVMe shows up before the first mention of NVM. This means I am first writing “NVM Express (NVMe).” I then later write “non-volatile memory (NVM).” If I were to define the first mention of NVMe as “Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe),” would that mean I would not define the first mention of NVM as “non-volatile memory (NVM)” because NVM has already been defined as part of another acronym?

A. Why not explain that there are two overlapping acronyms in this article and set everyone straight from the get-go? Contrary to popular belief, there is no rule that acronyms must be defined once and only once when they first appear, no matter how unhelpful that is. And even if there were such a rule, when you have a situation like this, you simply have to take charge and be extra clear.

Q. I found a nice comment written in a book by the last owner. Have no idea who that was, but the words are good. How do I cite this?

A. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with “I saw this written in a book.” You could mention the date you saw it, if it matters, but there’s little point to citing the book unless it’s in some way relevant.

Q. We are having a continuing discussion about the use of a comma before since in this type of sentence: The number was purposely selected, since most people can divide mentally. My understanding is that if the subordinate clause follows the main clause, no comma precedes the conjunction; however, I saw the following sentence in the Q&A and am now confused. “Be aware, however, that the figures may depart from Chicago style in some details, since they are taken from actual manuscripts and published books or journals.”

A. The rule you remember is only half the rule. Please see CMOS 6.31: “A dependent clause that follows a main clause should not be preceded by a comma if it is restrictive, that is, essential to the meaning of the main clause. . . . If the dependent clause is merely supplementary or parenthetical, it should be preceded by a comma” (emphasis added). Please see 6.31 for examples.

Q. In the technical writing I do it is common to reduce the full name of a company, after first mention, to a shorter version, usually dropping the Inc. or LLC or what have you. For example: “Johnson Associates, Inc. (Johnson), is the proponent of this project.” Is it correct to have a comma after the parenthesis?

A. Yes, as long as there is also a comma before Inc. Chicago also allows for dropping both commas (6.48): Johnson Associates Inc. (Johnson) is the proponent of this project.

Q. A company I work for advocates two levels of headings in most reports/articles: a stand-alone boldface head (an A head) and a boldface run-in head (a C head). The style guide says that when an extra head is needed, a B head (stand-alone small caps) should be employed between the A and C heads. Some editors believe that when the B head is needed, it can be used in only some sections of a report/article, arguing that the B heads are an intermediary organizational structure that can be useful in a particularly complex section, but this does not mean that they are required—or even appropriate—in sections with simpler construction. By this logic, some sections within a report/article would have an A-B-C heading structure and other sections within that same report/article would have an A-C heading structure. Other editors think that once the B head is used, all secondary-level headings in that report should be B heads. What do you advise?

A. Both ways of thinking have merit, so the actual content of the document should drive the decision. The default arrangement is not to skip a level, but sometimes the content makes a convincing case for skipping. Especially in cases where a report has a certain kind of information that appears repeatedly—let’s say, lists of tips—it’s helpful to the reader if headings for that kind of information look the same throughout. To put tip lists under run-in heads in one section and stand-alone heads in another obscures their sameness and doesn’t help the reader recognize or locate them.

Q. Oh dear, is it really true that Merriam-Webster Dictionary says you can break the word recommendation after the c? I am in Cuba and don’t have M-W handy, but it seems very odd.

A. It is true. Word breaks are made according to pronunciation, not root: ge-og-ra-phy, but geo-graph-i-cal. Breaking recommendation after rec makes more sense than breaking after re, because it prompts a reader to hear the “reck” sound instead of “ree” and thus anticipate the correct word pronunciation.

Q. CMOS 13.7 recommends silently correcting typographic errors while retaining capitalization of older works. I am writing a book with numerous quotations from archival sources from the nineteenth century. Does that count as old? These sources seem to have idiosyncratic rules about capitalizing empire following proper names, such as “the Roman empire.” Is the text old enough to preserve that error?

A. You seem to have misunderstood the spirit of 13.7. The point is to try to distinguish between (a) modern sources, where typos and bizarre spellings are assumed to be unintended errors, and (b) writings that were published (or transcribed for print) before the time when consistency in spelling was a goal. There’s bound to be some overlap in the two—it’s not as though there’s a date when “old” turned into “new.” So try to think in terms of “intended” and “unintended” spellings. CMOS is saying that it’s fine to correct an unintended typo or two. We’re not saying that it’s OK to change the character of a document by changing all the old-fashioned spellings and stylings into modern ones. And incidentally, Chicago style uppercases Roman Empire (per 8.50).

Q. Which is correct? “Because of the affect/effect of unpaid interest, your loan balance has become larger than its cash value.”

A. Effect is correct. Please see the CMOS section 5.220, “Good Usage versus Common Usage,” under affect/effect.

Q. A program for an academic event includes a page that thanks “organizations, programs, and funds” for supporting student research. The entries are presented in list form. We are tripped up by how to alphabetize individual fund or award names (such the Ellen Vannet Fund and the Wilma Hubbell Award). We found guidance from this CMOS Q&A, which says “Alphabetize an organization under the first significant word, and an individual donor by surname. The Merry Gregg Foundation goes under M; Merry Gregg goes under G.” We extrapolated that a fund or award would follow the organization/foundation treatment, and we alphabetized by first significant word (not by the person’s last name). But our Advancement Office disagrees on this interpretation. Thanks for any guidance! You are a treasured resource.

A. Thank you! Would you like us to come over there with a big stick?