New Questions and Answers

Q. Dear CMOS team—a book I am working on as an editor is called (disguised) Sandwich: Imagine the Recipe. Write It Down. Watch It Happen. Are the periods in the subtitle appropriate, or are commas preferred? The periods are driving me crazy, so it would be nice if there were a Chicago rule to say yea or nay.

A. The periods are certainly awkward when it comes to putting that title into a sentence. But for better or for worse, they’re part of the title’s personality, so it’s probably best to leave them as they are. If the title appears midsentence, omit the final period or change it to a comma, depending on the syntax. Try to think of the whole thing as a unit and just avert your eyes.

Q. What font does Chicago require? I thought it was Times New Roman, but perhaps Arial is also okay?

A. CMOS does not state a preference, but for Chicago-style student papers, please see Turabian Tip Sheet 6 (Main Text), which suggests 12 pt. Times New Roman or Calibri or 11 pt. Arial (based on Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 9th edition, which is compatible with The Chicago Manual of Style).

Q. I am preparing an online archive. Many of the items are audio or video recordings. I’ve fruitlessly searched CMOS for the proper way to indicate the total time of a recording—for example, thirty-five minutes and thirty-three seconds. 35 min. 33 sec.? 35m:33s?

A. There are various accepted stylings. At CMOS 14.264 (“Recorded Readings, Lectures, Audiobooks, and the Like”) one example shows the length of a reel-to-reel tape as 1:12:49, and another shows the length of an audiobook as 13 hr., 6 min. An example at CMOS 9.40 (“ISO Style for Time of Day”) suggests the option of putting a zero in front of a single-digit measure of time: 09:27:08.6 = 27 minutes, 8.6 seconds after 9:00 a.m. Based on all these examples, you could use either 00:35:33 (to clarify that it’s 35 minutes, not 35 hours) or 35 min., 33 sec.

Q. Section 11.9 of CMOS (17th ed.) states, “When the title of a work in another language is mentioned in text, an English gloss may follow in parentheses,” and “if the translation has not been published, the English should be capitalized sentence-style . . . and should appear neither in italics nor within quotation marks.” In texts that discuss in detail such a work (say, a literary analysis of a Chinese-language novel for a predominantly English-speaking readership) and where the English gloss is justifiably preferred to the original, should that gloss stay in roman, capitalized sentence-style throughout, or may it carry the features of a published translation (italics or quote marks) for ease of presentation?

A. Yes, in a case like that it makes sense to use italics (or whatever) for the title. You might introduce the style explicitly to ward off the copyeditor—for example: “In the Chinese novel [Chinese characters or transliteration] (hereafter referred to as Plum Tree at Sunset) . . .”

Q. What’s your current recommendation on ending a sentence with a preposition? Current example: “[Nurses bound the] wounds of the men they were taking care of.”

A. Our current recommendation has been current since 1906: there is no rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. Please see CMOS 5.180: “The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences or clauses with prepositions is an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. And it is wrong.”

Q. In the sentence “Cane Ridge post office in Van Buren County, Tennessee, was opened in March 1866,” the town name is Cane Ridge and it has a post office. Would you capitalize “Post Office” or leave it lowercase?

A. In your sentence the phrase “Cane Ridge Post Office” looks like a title that should be capped, like Cane Ridge High School. If you had written “The Cane Ridge post office,” then “post office” might be read as a generic and lowercased in the way that you would lowercase “the Cane Ridge gas station” or “the Cane Ridge bus stop.”

Q. Hello. I am writing an essay for history in Chicago style, and when I state a fact I have been putting the number of the citation in parentheses after I have stated it. Is this correct? Example: Abe Lincoln became president in 1861. (5) Or do I need to put it as an exponent following the text?

A. Some citation systems do use parentheses like that to refer to a numbered list of sources, but Chicago style is to use a superscript number that refers to an endnote or footnote containing a citation. Here’s the Turabian Tip Sheet that shows how it looks with footnotes. Please see the “For Students” page at CMOS Shop Talk for answers to many questions on writing a paper and citing sources (scroll to “Chicago Style Basics”). 

Q. When was the Chicago style created? Thanks.

A. Thank you for your interest in Chicago style! At CMOS Online you can read about its history since the university’s founding in 1891 and the printing of the first edition of CMOS in 1906.

Q. I’m a technical editor at an architectural and engineering firm and am working with a project manager (an architect) on a long document with 100+ tables. He insists on putting the table title below the table (below the table notes, which he wants to enclose in a box). He says he doesn’t like how the title above the table looks. CMOS 3.54 refers to “the title, which appears above the table,” but doesn’t give the reason for the placement. I have told the project manager that the overwhelming convention is to put the title above the table, have cited published guidance (e.g., CMOS) to put it above, and have told him that the likely reason is that tables are most often read from top to bottom, but he won’t budge. What is the reason CMOS recommends putting the table title above the table? Maybe he would consider your rationale.

A. Titles of tables are put at the top for the same reason chapter titles and subheadings precede their content: to announce what’s coming. What’s more, the column heads of a table often make sense only when combined with information that’s provided in the title, such as “in dollars per year” or “in miles per gallon.” Hiding that information at the bottom of the table might necessitate adding it to each column head, where space is limited. While there may be instances where a table title at the bottom works just fine (especially if the graphic design emphasizes the title), in general it’s more helpful at the top.

Q. Choosing between in or at: When referring to a specific area on a slide presentation, would you say “in the top right-hand corner” or “at the top right-hand corner”? Are there rules that help one determine when to use in or at?

A. Prepositions are tricky! Even fluent English speakers can disagree on which one to use. CMOS 5.195 presents a list of words that usually go with certain prepositions, but often (as in your sentence) more than one works well. When you’re stuck, look up the preposition in a dictionary and find an example phrase or sentence that’s similar to the one you’re puzzling over.

Q. I’m having a lively debate on Facebook with some friends about how the abbreviation CMOS is pronounced by the fine folks at UCP. Do y’all tend to say “see-moce” or “see-moze” or “see-moss” or “see-mahs”? Thanks!

A. In an in-house poll of editors, marketers, and production staff, “SEE-moss” won by a landslide, followed in an even split by “SEE-mose” and “poTAHto.”

November Q&A

Q. Hi, Chicago! My team has a question about kinship names. We understand words like Mom, Dad, and Grandma get capped when standing in place of a name, but we often see son and sis lowercased, even in direct address (e.g., “Well, son, let me explain” and “What’s the matter, sis?”). Is it because those are more terms of endearment than actual stand-ins for the name? Or should Son and Sis be capitalized too?

A. You’re right that Mom, Dad, and Grandma are used by children who wouldn’t address their elders by first name, whereas terms like son and sis are more often meant as generics rather than to replace a name, and that makes lowercasing them appropriate. In gray areas writers may use their discretion.

Q. Do you capitalize the preposition for in headline-capitalization style in this case: “XYZ: what is it good for?” Lowercase or uppercase? Thanks a lot!

A. The last word is capitalized in a Chicago-style headline-capped title, regardless of syntax: “XYZ: What Is It Good For?” Please see CMOS 8.159 (point 1) for this rule.

Q. What is the proper way to write Dr. Tom Smith Jr., M.D.?

A. Use MD or Dr., but not both. Please see CMOS 10.16 and 10.19. Some style guides use periods in M.D. and put a comma before Jr., but Chicago prefers the following forms:

Tom Smith Jr., MD
Dr. Tom Smith Jr.

Q. I am copyediting a nonfiction manuscript that contains citations of online news articles. We are hoping to use footnotes rather than endnotes for this book, and the URLs are very long and ungainly. The author’s proposed solution is to include only the web address for the news site’s home page and not the full article URL. I think it would be better to use a service to shorten these so that we can list a (currently) working URL for each specific article without taking up two or three lines of space for each one. Do you have any opinions on whether this is a sound practice or have any other suggestions for this kind of problem?

A. The author’s solution is preferable to URLs shortened by a third-party service, which aren’t always reliable or lasting. Please see CMOS 14.10 for detailed advice about shortening URLs. You might be able to clean up the complex URLs for individual articles by lopping off most of the gobbledygook. (Try it!) Or navigate to the page some other way and see whether the URL is tidier than the one provided.

Q. I write and edit reports for an environmental firm, and we frequently cite publications that are published by government organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency. These publications almost always include the authors’ names. We use the author-date system for citations. When referring to EPA publications in the text of a report, I typically word the text such that both EPA and the correct author-date text citation are mentioned (e.g., “As recommended by EPA guidance [Puls and Barcelona 1996], sampling . . .”). The project manager for one of the reports I’m working on has requested that we use the publishing organization name (or acronym) instead of the authors’ names in the in-text citations (e.g., use “EPA 1996” instead of “Puls and Barcelona 1996”) and then use a cross-reference in the references section to point to the correct citation based on the authors’ names. Is this appropriate? Her reasoning is that “EPA 1996” will be more recognizable to the reader than the authors’ names. I could not find a similar question in the Q&A, but if I missed one, please let me know!

A. Your manager’s system is a bit cruel, sending readers on a two-hop trip to the correct reference, in service of a spurious goal, since readers don’t normally need the names in author-date citations to be “recognizable.” Although CMOS allows an organization to serve as author when there is no author (see 15.37), when there are actual authors, it’s right to cite them.

Q. If the title of a magazine article contains the word now, as in “And Now Gay Rights,” should it be alphabetized under N?

A. Conjunctions count when alphabetizing titles; that title would go under A for And.

Q. Is it necessary to continue repeating the auxiliary had after its first instantiation when writing a complex sentence with some of the verbs in the pluperfect: “She had taken many rides in the train and [had] seen many sights, sights that [had] awakened her curiosity, but what [had] most intrigued her . . .”? If not, it seems the reader would have an ambiguous idea about where the event is situated in time.

A. This is a thorny issue, especially for fiction writers. Mignon Fogarty wrote a good post about it at Grammar Girl. The idea is to mix it up a little instead of repeating had a million times. Doing it gracefully and avoiding ambiguity requires some skill, but when it’s done well, readers get the idea.

Q. I have always thought that the only time one uses capitalization after a semicolon is when it is followed by a proper noun (or a word like I). As a mathematics editor, I’ve encountered capitalization after a semicolon with two different publishers (“No; Possible answer: they can find . . .”).  I’ve searched for an answer in CMS but no luck.

A. CMOS probably doesn’t cover this because it’s never come up before! Uppercasing after a semicolon in running text (other than a proper name) is likely to look like an error.

Q. My proofreader says that the verb needs to be singular in this caption, but that reads as incorrect to me. Can you instruct me or give me bragging rights (not that I would ever brag, of course)? “Ann Smith, one of seven alumni who talks about leadership.”

A. Those seven alumni who talk about leadership are plural, so the verb should be plural as well. Ann Smith will have to get her own verb. (But please be nice to your proofreader!)

Q. I was wondering: in an academic book is there a reason to put something in a bibliography and not in an endnote? If there is a reason, what is it? What references go in the endnotes then? Is a bibliography needed?

A. A bibliography is optional if the endnotes contain full citations. But some writers use a bibliography to include materials used in researching the document whether they are cited in the notes or not. It can also include suggested readings. You can find answers to related questions at the CMOS Shop Talk blog; scroll down to “Chicago Style Basics.”

Q. Which of the following is correct or preferred? I’m guessing it’s the first option. I’m working on a very important, time-sensitive document, and everything has to be correct according to CMOS.

She’s number one in my book.
She’s number 1 in my book.
She’s No. 1 in my book.
She’s no. 1 in my book.

A. All of those stylings are widely accepted. The default Chicago style for numbers one through ten is to spell them out, so “number one” works well. In certain contexts (such as referring to a list), you might opt for “number 1,” based on Chicago style for “page 1”, “table 1,” and other such expressions.

Q. What is Chicago style counsel for using empty brackets when attempting to fit a quotation syntactically into a sentence? The Bluebook permits empty brackets to indicate “the omission of letters from a common root word”—for example, “judgment[]” (77). Does Chicago follow this? And if not, how does Chicago handle such cases where, for instance, an original approached needs to be made approach?

A. In Chicago style, brackets can signal substitutions as well as insertions. To change approached to approach within a quotation, the word approach goes into the brackets. If it’s important for readers to know whether the bracketed material is an edit or an insertion, consider paraphrasing or explaining instead of altering the quote. Please see CMOS 6.99.

Q. How does Chicago style handle capitalization of add-on questions such as the following? “May I have a cookie? two cookies? four cookies?” Should the latter two questions start with a lowercase letter?

A. CMOS doesn’t cover this issue per se, but it incidentally shows an example at 5.229: “Which is better? And why?” In that case CMOS chose capital letters, perhaps because the add-on question can be seen as beginning a new sentence. You could view “Two cookies?” as an elision of “May I have two cookies?” and therefore as the beginning of a new sentence, or you could choose to view your add-ons as sentence-ending fragments, so that lowercasing is justifiable.

Q. Regarding the use of and in a short parenthetical list, here is an example: “channels that confer sensitivity to heat (TrpV1, TrpM2, TrpM3).” My project manager thinks there is a need to place and between the last two items in the parens. I know of no such rule and cannot think of a reason why the word would be necessary (other than the customer is always right). Any insights on this minor dilemma?

A. English isn’t as bossy as a lot of people believe. There’s no rule that a series must include and. When someone makes up a rule, don’t fall for it! Reply, “Ah—I didn’t know that rule! Could you please tell me where I can find it?”