New Questions and Answers

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?

April Q&A

Q. Is it safe to assume that the Chicago Manual of Style itself is written in Chicago style? Sometimes I can’t find a specific answer, but the word or phrase itself is actually used somewhere therein.

A. Yes, you can assume that the Manual is written in Chicago style. 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. Often during editing, a given detail of house style may be tweaked or even ignored to honor common practice in that writer’s discipline. For that reason, each figure should be regarded as an illustration of the point being made in that section, rather than as exemplifying Chicago style in every detail.

Q. I am teaching my students CMOS notes and bibliography type for all of their academic papers. When using footnotes on a paper the student did the full bibliographic citation on page 1. Then on page 2 there was a reference to the same source. Is it correct to allow the student to simply use author-date for that subsequent citation? Or is it more correct for the student to repeat the full bibliographic citation?

A. Chicago prefers shortened citations after the first full mention. Section 14.18 of CMOS will give you a solid overview of notes/bibliography style that will help you teach your students. Our Citation Quick Guide includes examples of such shortened citations (author, title, page). In addition, our Shop Talk blog has a great deal of free information geared toward helping students learn Chicago style and good citation and paper-writing practices.

Q. A recent article in Science magazine included the following sentence: “Every 10 weeks, Sundquist gets 32 bee sting-like injections of the nerve-numbing botulism toxin into her face and neck.” Should that be “bee-sting-like”? 

A. A look at the article online reveals that the punctuation between sting and like is not a hyphen but an en dash (bee sting–like), which indicates that the entire phrase bee sting goes with like. We show this use of the en dash at CMOS 6.80 in the example “Chuck Berry–style lyrics.” That kind of en dash (as we say) “is most helpful with proper compounds, whose limits are established within the larger context by capitalization.” The danger in using it for lowercased phrases is that many readers will read the dash as a hyphen—as you did. A good solution for phrases that aren’t proper nouns is to use two hyphens instead, as you suggest: bee-sting-like.

Q. If a sentence is a question and ends with a quote which is not a question, should a question mark be used, and if so, where should it be placed?

A. Put a sentence-ending question mark outside the quoted statement: Can you believe he said “I like your face-lift”?

Q. I am using the author-date system for a book. I need to cite a response from a survey that was done after a workshop. The survey results were never published and the responses are anonymous.

A. You can write, “Unpublished survey with anonymous responses”—although I’m afraid that doesn’t sound very authoritative. If it has a date and if someone admits to having administered it, those could be your author and date.

Q. I can’t find the rule that states proper typeface for a table of contents, specifically for a journal. Can you point me to the rule? 

A. There is no rule! There are many beautiful typefaces and as many ways to design a book or journal as there are books and journals. A style guide should not restrict the choices, which are usually made by a professional graphic designer. For instance, if you compare the contents in CMOS figure 1.5 with the actual table of contents of the 16th edition, you will see that they have different designs. Look at several books or journals at a bookstore or library, and you will see—all are different.

Q. I am writing a scholarly book and the publisher has explicitly indicated that it does not want numerous endnotes, long endnotes, discursive endnotes, or cross-citations. In providing a gloss of various texts in the scholarly literature in my introduction, I have provided the complete author’s name, the title, and date of the book within the running text. To add a note would be redundant. Is this an acceptable way to satisfy both the publisher and the scholarly readers?

A. It sounds as though it is enough to satisfy your publisher. It wouldn’t satisfy every academic press, however, and many scholars expect to see at least a place of publication or publisher (and most often both). Chicago usually requires full citations somewhere in a scholarly book. If a bibliography (or reference list) is included, then your short text citations are sufficient.

Q. Can I split the word recommendation other than recom/mendation

A. Yes. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary shows rec/om/men/da/tion. Any of those splits would be fine.

Q. Some authors use italics for unspoken thoughts. What is appropriate when the thought contains the name of a book (which is also italicized)? For example: I wonder where I can get hold of a copy of Julius Caesar. Do I italicize “Julius Caesar,” or do I toggle and make “Julius Caesar” roman type?

A. You can put “Julius Caesar” in roman type (reverse italics) or in quotation marks. This is one reason why putting thoughts into italics is awkward, however. Chicago recommends either no treatment or quotation marks for unspoken discourse. Please see CMOS 13.41.

Q. The Naval War College Writing and Style Guide states: “Although a term may be plural or possessive, do not make the abbreviation plural or possessive on first usage: cluster bomb units (CBU).” Is that also The Chicago Manual of Style’s preferred convention for first appearance of an acronym in a document?

A. Although CMOS is silent on this topic, the plural “cluster bomb units (CBUs)” looks respectable. The possessive, however, would be awkward: “cluster bomb unit’s (CBU’s).” Reword to avoid it.

Q. I’m confused over when to use the article the in expressions like “the British psychiatrist Michael Rutter’s study.” Although readers will know it might not be the case, to me, using the makes that person the only one in that field.

A. It’s just a matter of how you read it. When you see that the name Michael Rutter is a restrictive appositive defining which British psychiatrist we’re talking about, the does not make him the only British psychiatrist—quite the contrary. See CMOS 5.21.

Q. Ending a sentence with a preposition? Is there flexibility in this rule? Section 3.68 in my copy of the 16th edition has a sentence like this. Thanks in advance!

A. Please see CMOS 5.176 (“Ending a sentence with a preposition”): “The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. . . . The ‘rule’ prohibiting terminal prepositions was an ill-founded superstition.” As for CMOS 3.68, you’re probably referring to this sentence: “Each cell in a row aligns with the stub entry it applies to”—a simple, clear sentence just as it is.

Q. Dear wise and knowledgeable CMOS person, a fellow writer and editor and I can’t agree. She insists that “well-trained dog” shouldn’t have a hyphen. I think it must have that hyphen. We were both pretty tired when this cropped up, so we ended up barking a bit at each other. We’d like to resolve this bone of contention by appealing to you, whom we both respect and trust. Whatever you say, we’ll abide by.

A. If the dog is well trained (no hyphen), it is a well-trained dog. Please have a long look at our hyphenation table at CMOS 7.85. (Just one reason we’re top dog.)