New Questions and Answers

Q. I am writing about pencils. The piece has to conform to CMOS. How am I supposed to write “No. 2 pencil,” which isn’t a proper name, but nearly so? If I write “Number 2,” it doesn’t seem to be “better.” Thoughts?

A. Where CMOS fails to offer a specific ruling, follow common usage. This often means looking to Merriam-Webster, but since there’s no entry there, you’ll have to do some digging.

Pencil companies seem to prefer the form “No. 2” (as on this page from Dixon Ticonderoga), though “#2” is also common. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, those forms also happen to be at or near the top of the list of how such pencils have been referred to in books published since 1900. Book editors often default to spelling out abbreviations and numerals in running text, but even so, most of the spelled-out forms trail the abbreviations:

Google Ngram showing variations on "a No. 2 pencil" in books published in English since 1900.

And though “number 2 pencil” would be okay with us—in line with “type 2 diabetes,” “size 10 dress,” and “type A executive” (see CMOS 7.89, sec. 2, under “noun + numeral or enumerator”)—we’d argue from the evidence above that “No. 2” will be more familiar to readers.

A third option—spelling out the whole thing (“number two”)—would be okay also (it’s the second most common usage). But as with dress sizes (and page numbers), a numeral matches what’s usually on the item itself.

As for the capital N in “No.,” there’s a close analogy in “No. 1”—as in “we’re No. 1.” That’s how “number one” in that sense is “often written” according to Merriam-Webster. It’s maybe not surprising, then, that the form “no. 2 pencil” (lowercase n) doesn’t even chart in an ngram (unless its absence stems from a limitation in Google’s data).

As most editors who work on paper would know, the “2” refers to hardness. A No. 2 pencil leaves less graphite on the paper than the softer No. 1 (which makes darker marks), but more than the harder No. 3 (which makes lighter marks). According to a more common classification system, a No. 2 pencil is an HB. H refers to hardness, B to blackness. So whereas an H pencil would be hard (and light), a B would be soft (and dark); HB is in the middle. These grades can also include numbers. For example, an 8B is softer than a 6B.

For more information on these and other details, see The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, by Henry Petroski (Knopf, 1990).

Q. I can’t get a consensus from fellow professional editors on how to punctuate the following sentence:

“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window, “that was you waving at me?”

Since there isn’t a dialogue tag, some say to use em dashes per CMOS 6.87.

However, I believe em dashes should be reserved for special emphasis, and pointing isn’t important. Changing the wording changes the author’s consistent writing style.

It’s obvious that Joe is speaking, so why would we need a dialogue tag as well as the action beat in order to use commas? Can’t we eliminate “said” if it’s clear who is speaking and only use the action beat?

Thank you very much for your help.

A. Your example is clear enough and will probably work for most readers. But it does break with convention, according to which commas used with narrative interruptions also require true speech tags. People don’t point words, they say them:

“So up there,” Joe said, pointing at the window, “that was you waving at me?”

If you want to leave out the speech tag, that same convention would require either em dashes or periods, because now the narrative interruption has lost its immediate connection to the spoken dialogue:

“So up there”—Joe pointed at the window—“that was you waving at me?”


“So up there.” Joe pointed at the window. “That was you waving at me?”

Otherwise, it’s not much better than either of these:

“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window.


Joe pointed at the window, “That was you waving at me?”

On the other hand, if the author’s style regularly features comma splices, your version is fine; through repetition, readers will catch on. If not, consider the alternatives.

Q. CMOS 6.65: “A colon may also be used to introduce a quotation or a direct but unquoted question, especially where the introduction constitutes a grammatically complete sentence.” MUST a colon be used or is a period after the introductory sentence also correct?

A. If it will be obvious to readers how the quotation fits with the surrounding text, a period can work just fine. If not, use a colon.

Jerzy was always talking about how she’s an astronaut. “I’ve been to the moon twice. I have the receipts.” We almost felt sorry for her.

Unprompted, Jerzy announced the reason for her recent absence: “I was on the moon. Again.” We didn’t know whether to be jealous or mad.

The colon is often the better choice; readers tend to appreciate such signals. But a period can be less insistent. Either one is correct.

Q. When indirectly referring to Catholic nuns, should the term “sisters” be capitalized?

A. According to Merriam-Webster, “sister” is “often capitalized” when referring to a member of a religious order, Catholic or otherwise. CMOS takes that “often” as permission to use lowercase: “The sisters left the convent at noon.”

Q. Hi! Would “results sharing” be hyphenated in this example? “Each webcast includes in-session polling and results sharing.” Thanks!

A. According to our hyphenation guide (at CMOS 7.89, sec. 2), a compound noun that consists of a noun plus a gerund should be left open unless listed as either hyphenated or closed in Merriam-Webster. The term “results sharing” isn’t in M-W in any form, so leave it open.

Q. I am editing a book, converting it from APA to Chicago. The publisher/​author has made the choice to not include a bibliography. My question is how to write the note when there are more than four authors. Should each author be cited, or only the first plus “et al.”?

A. Follow the rule for bibliographies and list up to ten authors; if more than ten, list the first seven followed by “et al.” In subsequent notes to the same source, use a short form (in which only the first author is listed, followed by “et al.”). But if space is an issue, list up to six authors in the first note; if more than six, list the first three followed by “et al.” In either case, repeat the full form of the note for the first citation in each chapter. See also CMOS 14.76.

Q. How should I cite in the text multiple publications by the same author? Can I simply write (Sutinen 1969, 1976, 1981)? Or should I write (Sutinen 1969, Sutinen 1976, Sutinen 1981)?

A. Though there’s a risk that the additional years might be misread as page numbers (at least initially), your first approach is preferred for its brevity. But if page numbers are also cited, use semicolons instead of commas: (Sutinen 1969; 1976, 257; 1981). See CMOS 15.30 for more details and examples.

October Q&A

Q. Regarding indenting paragraphs, the online consensus seems to be that the first paragraph of text is formatted flush left, and only subsequent paragraphs are indented. Does Chicago have an opinion on this? Thanks!

A. Our opinion aligns with the consensus. In a book or other type of work that otherwise features paragraphs with first-line indents, the first paragraph in a chapter or other section normally begins flush left. This is a convention more than a rule (and not mentioned in CMOS), but most publishers today, including Chicago, tend to follow it.

Such paragraphs usually follow a chapter or other title or a section heading. The first line would also begin flush left in a paragraph that follows a section break signaled by extra line space (often in conjunction with asterisks or the like; see “Space Breaks in Fiction” at Shop Talk for an example).

Paragraph indents help readers identify new paragraphs in books and other types of works that don’t rely on extra line spacing between paragraphs to do the same thing. But after a heading or other such break, it’s obvious where the next paragraph begins, so the indent isn’t needed.

Authors can follow the convention for published works in their manuscripts, but they don’t have to. Decisions about indents and other matters of layout are usually up to a book designer or other design professional.

Q. In CMOS 10.3, I am confused by the meaning of the following sentence, describing “less familiar abbreviations”: “Such an abbreviation should not be offered only once, never to be used again, except as an alternative form that may be better known to some readers.” Would you please clarify? Thank you!

A. Normally, the point of introducing an abbreviation is to save space on subsequent mentions.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was created in 1965 through an act of Congress. NEA grants have gone to museums, educators, . . .

But it can be helpful in certain cases to give both forms simply as an aid to readers who might know the abbreviation better than the spelled-out form. For example, the International Organization for Standardization is known to many people as ISO, so it would be helpful to include that form even if you were to mention that organization only once. For example,

Times have been presented according to the latest recommendations from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

There’s a chance that a copyeditor might query that (“AU: ISO doesn’t appear again. Delete here?”). The author, however, would be right to stet such a suggestion.

Q. When creating a shortened note for a specific episode of a television program, what information should be included?

A. Let’s say you mention the third episode of the second season of the American version of The Office, and you add a note citing that episode. Here’s what that note might look like:

1. The Office, season 2, episode 3, “Office Olympics,” written by Michael Schur, directed by Paul Feig, aired October 4, 2005, on NBC.

After that, the episode could be mentioned in the text again without a note. But if you did want to add a note—for example, to cite a specific moment in the episode—you could do this:

2. “Office Olympics,” at 18 min., 5 sec.

Or you could use the series title (a good strategy when the episodes are untitled, or when the episode titles aren’t meaningful):

2. The Office, S2E3, at 18 min., 5 sec.

Either version of the shortened note tells readers that whatever you’ve quoted or described in the text begins eighteen minutes, five seconds into the third episode of the second season of The Office.

All this assumes you need a note in the first place. TV shows aren’t like books and other written documents, and readers aren’t usually expected to consult them for themselves. Even in a book about American office culture, the following information in the text wouldn’t always need a note:

Work as play is also the theme in “Office Olympics,” the third episode from the second season of NBC’s The Office, . . .

That’s enough information in most contexts to understand the source of the information—no note required.

Q. I’m dealing with a quote within a quote. In fiction, a character in dialogue says something like, “You’re using a whole lot of ‘we’s’ here.” The “we” is supposed to be plural. How can this be punctuated properly? Or another case of the same situation, but in narrative text: A chorus of “got it”s, “yeah”s and way too enthusiastic “woo”s followed.

A. Often you can form the plural of a word used as a word simply by adding an s. That would work for your last set of examples:

A chorus of “got its,” “yeahs,” and way too enthusiastic “woos” followed.

But it works less well for “we” (mostly because “wes” looks too much like the name Wes). For that plural, either rephrase or use an apostrophe (as you’ve done in your question):

“You’re using ‘we’ a whole lot here.”


“You’re using a whole lot of ‘we’s’ here.”

Though apostrophes normally signal possession or contraction, they’re also good at clarifying the occasional plural that might otherwise be hard to read (as with letters: e.g., two w’s). Another option would be to use italics instead of quotation marks. But don’t put the s in italics (see CMOS 7.12)—and keep the apostrophe in we’s:

A chorus of got its, yeahs, and way too enthusiastic woos followed.

“You’re using a whole lot of we’s here.”

Switching to regular text for the s is analogous to putting the “s” after a closing quotation mark—as in “yeah”s. But “yeah”s is typographically awkward. Some styles allow it, so it’s a legitimate choice, but Chicago prefers the alternatives shown above (see also CMOS 7.13).

Q. Greetings. I am a copyeditor of academic books. One reviewer of my work recently challenged a decision of mine to expand “NYU Press” as “New York University Press.” Is there any rule in CMOS that requires spelling out a university’s name when it is abbreviated in the publisher’s name? I have normally tended to expand publisher’s names when they are not that well known. I leave MIT Press alone.

A. Normally, the cited form of a book publisher’s name should match what appears on the title page. A brief survey of books published since the 1990s suggests that “New York University Press” is how that publisher presents its name on its title pages. Here’s how it appears at the bottom of the title page in a 2022 book by Lilie Chouliaraki and Myria Georgiou:

Publisher's imprint at the bottom of a title page: Logo, New York University Press, New York

That book would be cited in a bibliography as follows:

Chouliaraki, Lilie, and Myria Georgiou. The Digital Border: Migration, Technology, Power. New York: New York University Press, 2022.

And though “NYU Press” would be fine for mentions in the text—after all, that’s how that press brands itself at its website—it’s usually best in source citations to record a publisher’s name as it appears in the source itself. But you don’t always need to use every word. Books published by the MIT Press include an initial “The” in the publisher’s name, as at the bottom of the title page in Gender(s), a book from 2021 by Kathryn Bond Stockton:

Publisher's imprint at the bottom of a title page: The MIT Press | Cambridge, Massachusetts | London, England

Chicago would omit the The and style the citation as follows:

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. Gender(s). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021.

In sum, follow the title page, within reason. And rather than automatically spelling out a publisher’s name if you find it abbreviated in a source citation, it’s usually best to check what the source itself has.

Q. Does CMOS allow random capitalization in poems?

A. We would, provided the randomness worked on some level. If a publisher has accepted the poem, then it probably does. A copyeditor might query any choice that doesn’t seem to be intentionally random—on the off chance that it might be a mistake—but otherwise, it’s usually up to The PoET.

Q. Hello! I work in marketing, and I’m wondering if lowercasing the words “off” and “under” in these headlines is correct: “50% off Body Wash” and “Gift Sets under $40.”

A. If you’re in marketing, capitalize both of those words. Why be quiet about savings?