New Questions and Answers

Q. What style of text and size (body and headings) does The Chicago Manual of Style suggest for submissions to the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation?

A. Most journals post instructions for writers at their websites online; search for “[journal name] submission guidelines” in a web browser. If type size and font are not specified, use 12-point type in a classic serifed font like Times New Roman for both body and headings. Headings need no special treatment unless you have more than one level, in which case you should indicate their relative importance by (for example) putting A-heads in bold type and B-heads in italics.

Q. In my dissertation, I cite a volume of letters in which the editor has inserted square brackets for clarification. So, for example, one passage reads: “Winston, Tito, Ben Gurion, Uncle Joe [Stalin], Bullitt, De Gaulle.” When I’m quoting the letter I’d like to add my own bracketed clarification to Bullitt’s name, but how do I distinguish it from the original editorial matter? CMOS 6.97 specifies that I should clarify whether editorial insertions are original, but surely there is some method that would prevent me from specifying the status of each individual bracket in footnotes.

A. There’s no need for footnotes; just add your initials to your own bracketed insertions [like this —CB].

Q. I am editing a text in which it is necessary to cite the source of several illustrations from an unpaginated book published in Asia. The author and I agreed that it would be useful to count the leaves and then cite the page number as a folio, for instance, “ff42v–43r.” We disagree on where to begin counting: the title page (English) or the first page with print. This first page might be interpreted as a half title page: it has just the Chinese name of the artist, who is the subject of the book. The verso might be considered a frontispiece: it has a photograph of the artist and a quotation. So which would be folio 1?

A. To leave no doubt as to how to find the page you cite, use the simplest and most obvious numbering: the first recto page is 1; its verso is 2. (Page numbers like “ff42v” are unnecessarily complicated and may give the impression that the pages are actually numbered that way.) In your citation use brackets [42–43] to indicate that the numbers are not expressed in the book itself.

Q. I subscribe to a magazine that recently hired a new editor in chief. This editor has changed the byline of authors to “words by.” I disagree with this usage because the authors did not create the words but rather assembled them in a proper order to convey a story. Am I off base?

A. “Words by” does not usually mean that a writer created the words—in fact, it usually means that the writer merely assembled them—but as a way to identify the writer of an article, it’s a bit precious. So while you’re off base in your reasoning, your reaction is understandable.

Q. Vertical lists punctuated as a sentence! Subsection 6.125 recommends semicolons at the end of list items that complete a sentence. As with run-in lists (6.123), would you recommend putting commas at the ends of items when all items contain no internal commas or other complications to their syntax? Would you use semicolons in every list (punctuated as a sentence) in a document if so much as one list contains one item that has an internal comma?

A. Chicago style does not put punctuation at the end of list items as a rule (please see 6.124), but it allows for semicolons if the list items are complex and contain commas. This means that in some documents, some complex vertical lists may feature semicolons at the ends of items and others, less complex, may have commas or no punctuation at all. Whether the presence of a single comma in a single list item would require the addition of semicolons to render the list readable is a matter of editorial judgment, and not something that CMOS is likely to legislate.

Q. Hello! I need to refer to a school that changed from a college to a university. If it was still Loyola College when that person graduated, is it correct to say “graduated from Loyola College in 1999,” or is it best to use its current name: “from Loyola University in 1999”? Thanks!

A. You must state what is true: the person graduated from Loyola College in 1999.

Q. Hi there. I have a question regarding the use of double prepositions. Is there a rule against it? I tried to check for rules in CMOS, but I didn’t see any. I also checked a dictionary, and it says that “off of” is an idiom and is therefore correct.

A. That “off of” is an idiom does not mean it’s correct. In fact, it means that caution is required: many idioms are considered slang or informal. CMOS guidelines apply to formal speech and writing, and CMOS says never to use “off of” (see 5.220, under “off”). There is no rule against double prepositions, however. “I ran out of the house” and “He peered from behind the tree” are perfectly grammatical and idiomatic.

Q. How do I cite a handwritten document that was originally written in 1781, but was copied in 1849? I viewed the copied version. Thanks.

A. You can add “copy, 1849” to the end of your citation.

Q. When I proofread, I am often requested to list the corrections in a note. An example of a note is: I recommend deleting “a querulous comment”. I put the period outside the closing quotation mark. I think what I’m reading on your site (6.9) would make my punctuation incorrect. Am I correct in this assumption?

A. No. Assuming that you want the editor to delete the words “a querulous comment” and nothing more—not even the period that follows—your punctuation is correct. Ignore the guideline at CMOS 6.9; common sense must prevail. You are trying to convey what should be deleted, and you must not put anything within the quotation marks unless you want it deleted. Given the nature of your list, you may wish to avoid end punctuation so the issue becomes moot.

Q. Can you change back and forth between first- and third-person narration within a story?

A. Yes, but it’s tricky. When you break the rules in writing, it’s usually a good idea to let someone else read it and give you feedback on whether it’s working the way you intended. Of course, sometimes the whole point is to confuse the reader—at least temporarily—in which case it’s weirdly even more important to know what you’re doing.

February Q&A

Q. I have a situation in which I am writing about the East China Sea and the South China Sea. When I refer to them separately, I of course capitalize each word (e.g., “East China Sea and South China Sea”). My question is whether I ought to capitalize the s in sea when I refer to them together: is it “East and South China Seas” or “East and South China seas”?

A. We prefer to cap Seas in this situation, although other stylebooks may lowercase.

Q. Hello. I can’t find a clear answer to the question of how to form the possessive of an acronym, especially a plural one. For example, I see the use of an apostrophe without a following s used often (CBS’ programming). I think an s is appropriate in any case, including when the acronym itself is plural. Is this correct?

A. Chicago style treats acronyms like other words, adding an apostrophe and an s: CBS’s audience. Although a plural possessive acronym can be awkward, the apostrophe alone serves: the PDFs’ suitability. Please see CMOS 7.16.

Q. Hello—My husband and I are arguing as to my use of periods at the end of a sentence when “trailing off.” He is unfamiliar with my use of two periods, which I believe is correct if my sentence actually ends there, rather than continuing. Is he (god forbid) right?? Example: He detailed all of the Nordic sports equipment he knew: skis, poles, ski boots, snow shoes.. Or must there be three periods?

A. I’m afraid there’s no softening this blow: you are wrong. (And we try not to use the w word.) Seriously, have you ever seen two periods in a published book or magazine? No. It’s always at least three. To learn more, please read CMOS 13.48–56 on ellipses.

Q. I’ll often hear people say “me and Kathy,” not “Kathy and me.” Shouldn’t me come after the person’s name? “Kathy and me,” not “me and Kathy”?

A. Yes. When me is used in a compound object, it normally comes after the name(s): The message was sent to Kathy and me. There are times when it might be fine to put me first, however, such as when I am the primary object and other people are not equally emphasized: The threat was directed at me and everyone I’d been in contact with since that day. If you’re talking about a compound subject (as opposed to object), the correct phrase is “Kathy and I”: Kathy and I told them. If me is used as a subject, it doesn’t really matter which way you decide to be wrong.

Q. In your January Q&A, in your response to the question about under commitment and over commitment, you wrote that “it would be best to either close up both or hyphenate both.” I’m trying to eliminate using the word up where it’s unnecessary. It seems to me the vast majority of both up and down uses following verbs are unnecessary. Do you think up is needed in your response?

A. You are right that there’s no need to “close up a deal” or “close up a gate,” but when we bring two words together without a hyphen, we do not call this “closing the words.” So up is appropriate here.

Q. Hello! I’m alphabetizing a word-by-word bibliography and have come across these names: Rosenthal, Rosen-Zvi. Which should come first? Chicago seems to be silent as to how the hyphen should be considered. Is there a rule I should follow in this case?

A. Hyphens are ignored in word-by-word alphabetizing, so Rosenthal is first. Please see CMOS 16.60 and 16.61.

Q. Tense is confusing me, and it’s probably because I’m overanalyzing everything. Please help! Aren’t the two verb tenses saying the same thing? And if so, is paragraph consistency the deciding factor on which tense to use? “The early work focused/focuses on . . .” “Once the cards are / have been put away . . .” “I hope this gives / will give you courage . . .” “As we discuss/discussed in the previous paragraph . . .”

A. Yes, they say the same thing. English is flexible that way. There are subtle differences in tenses that sometimes make one choice better than the other, but this is usually quite obvious and shouldn’t require a lot of analysis. Local consistency usually reads more smoothly.

Q. Hello, I would really appreciate it if you could please explain the difference between 14.32 (Citations plus commentary) and 14.34 (Substantive notes). They appear to address the same issue, but 14.32 says the source should come before the substantive notes, and 14.34 says it should come afterward, following usage in 14.33. I’m finding this confusing.

A. The two sections treat different situations. The position of a citation makes it clear whether that source is in support of something you wrote in the text (in which case the citation should be the first thing in the note, per 14.32, and your extra comments should follow the citation), or whether the source is in support of something you wrote in the note (in which case the citation should follow the comment that it supports, per 14.34). In short, the citation should follow closely whatever statement it is meant to support.

Q. I’m editing a bibliography on children’s books, and I need to distinguish between authors and illustrators. While some books make this easy and identify the illustrator on the covers, other books don’t make this distinction until the title page or the copyright page. My question is whether it’s acceptable to use the information on these subsequent pages to distinguish authors from illustrators or if I should go strictly by the cover page and list both names in the author position if the cover doesn’t distinguish between the two.

A. It’s usual to list authors and editors (translators, illustrators, etc.) according to the title page of a book rather than the cover. Even when author and illustrator are given equal typographic treatment, the author’s name almost always comes first, without qualification, and as a rule the illustrator is explicitly identified as such. Please see CMOS 14.72, 14.76, and 14.88.

Q. Let’s say you have a phrasal adjective that includes an open or hyphenated compound, the word and, and an attributive noun, such as “sterling silver and diamond.” When placing this phrasal adjective before a noun (such as brooch), how would you use en dashes or hyphens? Would it be “sterling-silver–and-diamond brooch” or “sterling silver–and-diamond brooch” or something else? I would like to do “brooch of sterling silver and diamonds,” but that won’t fly with the fashion editors where I work.

A. Use no punctuation if the meaning is clear without it, or use simple hyphens (sterling-silver-and-diamond brooch) if otherwise it might look like two items: sterling silver, and a diamond brooch. In a paragraph or catalog about brooches, you are probably safe without punctuation. Reordering the items might help. When you’re tempted to use one hyphen and one en dash or use two en dashes, you are almost certainly overthinking and about to produce something monstrous.

Q. On a brochure for high school students a quotation praises the info on a career-search website. The source is “High school student.” My coworker says the name of the student and his school must be identified. May quotations be manufactured for marketing material? Or must quotations be attributed to real people? I say student privacy is a concern.

A. Quotations may be manufactured for marketing material, as long as they are identified as fictional. You see this on TV when the small type says “Dramatization”—which means “We’re making this up.” You have probably also seen quotations attributed to speakers whose surnames were omitted (Sarah O., Springfield Community High), or where the small type said “Names have been changed for the sake of privacy.” An attorney who specializes in privacy issues can help. Putting “Fictional high school student” after your quotes would make your brochure look pretty lame.