New Questions and Answers

Q. I’ve noticed that print and e-book versions of the same title sometimes have different dates of publication; how should this be dealt with in bibliographic entries? If I were quoting from such a work, I would provide the publication date of whichever version, print or digital, I had consulted, but what about a reference that’s intended only to point the reader toward a certain resource (“for more on this topic, see Smith 2018”)? In that case, should preference be given to the earlier date over the later? To the print version over the digital?

A. Cite the year of whichever edition you choose to recommend. For e-books, include the format (Kindle, iBooks, etc.). You can see examples in our Quick Citation Guide, under “E-book > Reference-List Entries.”

Q. I wanted to ask if the word golly is used in the Chicago style guide. Thank you.

A. Yes, it is. Please see CMOS 5.216 (“Exclamations”). (Tip: You can find a word in CMOS by typing it into the search box.)

Q. I am working on a research paper for an upper-level anthropology class and could not find the correct method for citing a quote that contains several in-text citations. How do I address the in-text citations?

A. Include them in your quotation. Please see CMOS 13.7: “Parenthetical text references in the original should be retained.”

Q. Hi, CMOS staff. My question itself concerns two Q&A entries. In the first one, it looks as though a department name, even when part of a long corporate title, gets capped: “Mary Smith, director of Human Resources.” In the second one, though, it appears that if an otherwise would-be-capped department is a part of the title, it too gets lowercased: “Jordan Smith is assistant secretary of bureaucracy and obfuscation.” I’m editing a book that is constantly shifting its capitalization patterns for these departments (such as “chair of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience” and “the head of the emergency department”), and I’m having a hard time determining which way to jump, because the advice in these Q&A entries seems to be contradictory. Could anyone shed some light on this for me?

A. The two answers might seem contradictory because neither mentions that departments may be referred to generically by lowercasing them. “Chair of the department of physiology and neuroscience” could be written by someone who either doesn’t know the official name of the department or knows that the official name is the Bedecker Department of Physiology and the Neurosciences.

Q. I am a copyeditor for a tiny scientific journal. I was given the following sentence: It is intriguing to note that BE has 18- to 33-fold the analgesic potency of morphine. I felt that this was incorrect and should have been changed to “18 to 33 times the analgesic potency” or “an 18- to 33-fold greater analgesic potency.” My editor overruled me by telling me that in scientific writing this is acceptable. I believe he is being confused by the fact that dictionaries give times as the definition of -fold (the true meaning of -fold is quite debatable, but that is not my question). I can’t seem to find a good reference for correct usage in this case. 

A. Careful writers and editors avoid the use of -fold precisely for this reason: it’s ambiguous. From Scientific Style and Format (12.3.3, “-Fold, Factor, and Times”):

Weak
the volume increase was 3-fold [was the final volume 3 times as high as the initial volume, or was the size of the increase 3 times the initial value?]

Unambiguous
the final volume was 3 times the initial volume
the final volume was 300% of the initial volume
the final volume was 3 times the initial volume of 10 mL

Q. I’ve been having a discussion about the use of the term “water-resistant.” Chicago style dictates the use of a hyphen in such a compound only when it precedes a noun. However, the term is recognized by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

A. You’re lucky—you can’t go wrong! If you value consistency, make a note of which one you choose. Keep in mind that when such adjectival compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for those that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Q. I am editing a short-story anthology. One of the submissions contains this phrase: “barb wire fence.” My instinct tells me that a hyphen is needed between the first two words, yet I cannot locate an example from a reliable source. What do you recommend, please?

A. Merriam-Webster.com lists barbwire as one word. (Barbed wire is the main entry there; barbed-wire fence is an alternative to barbwire fence.)

Q. Dear CMOS, I’m having a disagreement with an editor about hyphenation in one of my soon-to-be-published short stories. I hate the idea of one of my stories seeing print with a grammatical error. I’m in desperate need of an official CMOS ruling, just to make sure we get this right! The section in question is as follows: “Most people only know the one reality they’ve lived. You’re getting front-row seats to three more.” Should “front-row seats” be hyphenated in this instance?

A. Yes. Please see CMOS 7.85:

When compound modifiers (also called phrasal adjectives) such as high-profile or book-length precede a noun, hyphenation usually lends clarity. With the exception of proper nouns (such as United States) and compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective (see 7.86), it is never incorrect to hyphenate adjectival compounds before a noun. When such compounds follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).

Thus “seats in the front row” but “front-row seats.”

Q. Throughout CMOS, as well as in Webster’s, I see that some guidelines or spellings apply to “formal” writing and others to “informal” writing. How do you define formal and informal writing?

A. A writer’s choices determine whether a document is formal or informal. The use of slang, abbreviations, nonstandard grammar, lots of exclamation points, and a chatty tone are marks of informality. Passive verbs, big words, antiquated expressions, and correct or even stilted grammar signal formality. Most of us are comfortable somewhere in between. Some examples:

  • Usually formal: dissertations, grant proposals, term papers, legal documents, job applications, financial reports, wedding invitations
  • Usually informal: texts, grocery lists, personal letters and emails, personal blog posts
  • Formal or informal: books, newspaper articles, professional blog posts, work emails and letters, advertisements

Q. Does CMOS have an official position on hyphenating “the then” when used to indicate something or someone’s former status?

A. Since then is just an adjective like any other adjective, there’s no need for a hyphen.

  • the current secretary of state
  • the previous secretary of state
  • the then secretary of state

Q. How would you treat “over apologize” in this sentence? “Be careful not to over apologize.”

A. Over is a prefix in that case, so close it up: “Be careful not to overapologize.” Please see CMOS 7.89, section 4 (“Words Formed with Prefixes”), under the prefix over.

Q. When referencing government reports with no author, is the author the country or the department? I have always used the department; however, our university style guide based on CMOS says to use the country. For example, Australia, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry . . . 

A. It’s not a good idea to make a hard-and-fast rule, because your decision should fit your document. If your work is purely about Australia and no other country, it would be more useful to readers to begin with the department than to have dozens of entries beginning with Australia. If your work is more global in nature, however, readers might appreciate being able to locate the Australia references in a batch.

Q. From your July Q&A: “Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the Turabian.org website.” Really? “For free”? Free here is an adverb modifying the verbal phrase “are available,” not a noun, and cannot be the object of the preposition for.

A. Uh-oh. Somebody had better tell Merriam-Webster!

July Q&A

Q. I am working with an author who insists on referring to a photo that was taken in a certain decade as “this 1950’s photo.” Is the apostrophe needed, and is it in the correct place?

A. Chicago style is “1950s,” but the apostrophized style as you show it is accepted by some publishers.

Q. My question is about where to place the footnote superscript in a bullet list, when the whole list is linked to a source. Do you put it before the colon that introduces the list, after the colon, or at the end of the list, after the full stop?

A. The note callout can come either after the colon or at the end of the list.

Q. I work for a company that produces training material for the mining industry. A machine in the mining process uses ceramic beads to grind down rocks. We refer to these ceramic beads as “grinding media.” Is it appropriate to treat “grinding media” as a singular noun? For example: “The grinding media consists of ceramic beads with a size of 3.5 to 5.0 mm.”

A. Media is not supported as a singular in this context. When media stands for “news media,” you can use the singular, but for other meanings, media is plural and takes a plural verb. What’s more, even though the words beads is plural, there is still only one grinding medium. If the medium were an uncountable item like sand, you would probably use “grinding medium” and a singular verb without a second thought. Please see CMOS 5.14 and also 5.250 (s.v. medium).

Q. I am writing a research paper and would like to use parenthetical in-text citations using author-date style. However instead of including a reference list, I would like to include a bibliography, using notes-bibliography style. I thought this might be appropriate since I am writing a research paper for a course in the humanities but didn’t want to include footnotes. My professor is allowing us to use MLA or Chicago/Turabian citation style and hasn’t given us a lot of specifics.

A. A reference list (unlike a bibliography) is set up to match the parenthetical citations in the text. The in-text citations show author and year (Jones 1995), and the reference list entries begin with author and year:

Jones, Denise. 1995. Title. etc.

A bibliography entry, on the other hand, buries the year at the end of the entry. If you want to devise your own system instead of using one that is time-tested and globally employed, be prepared to defend it. And get permission from your instructor.

Q. This Q&A appears on your site:

Q. In a bibliography where the title of an unsigned article is a date (“1939: The Beginning of the End”), does the bibliography begin with this entry, or is it alphabetized according to its spelled-out word?

A. It’s usual to file a title like that under the spelled-out version of the number, in this case, nineteen. However, in lists where many such titles begin with numbers, you might rather group them all in numerical order at the beginning. In rare instances you could post an important title at both locations or add a cross-reference directing the reader to the location of the full citation.

My question is: Why nineteen? What if the title were 1,939 Pieces of Candy? The convention of saying “nineteen thirty-nine” for a date is simply that, a convention. For 2014 there is not yet a common convention: I have heard both “two thousand fourteen” and “twenty fourteen.” I would think that the correct method is to alphabetize by spelling out each number individually. Also, in the computer age when tables and other finding aids are programmatically generated, using the number-by-number approach requires only ten lines of computer code. Your existing answer would require an infinite number of lines, one for each number.

A. This is why good human indexers are better than computers: they have common sense. Humans can style the entry in the form they expect most readers to look under, and they can judge when extra help is needed.

Q. I’m on a team editing kids’ textbooks. One book includes a poster showing shapes (circle, square, triangle). Should this be referred to as a shapes poster? Is it an example of the genitive case 4 (at CMOS 5.20), requiring an apostrophe: shapes’ poster? If not, is it a temporary compound noun? Could it be written either way, based on personal preference? Does genitive case 7 help at all? A poster of shapes = shapes’ poster.

A. No apostrophe is needed because shapes is an attributive noun. “A shapes poster” is grammatically akin to “a commodities trader” and “a weapons dump” in containing a noun (singular or plural) that is used attributively as an adjective (shapes, commodities, weapons). You can read about attributive nouns at CMOS 5.24, “Nouns as Adjectives.”

Q. What is the order of dates in an in-text citation when more than one author is cited? Is it ascending by date? For example: (Martin 1986; Halliday 2000; Butt et al. 2003)? Or doesn’t the order matter?

A. The order in which author-date citations are given may depend on the order they were quoted or referred to in the text, or it may reflect the relative importance of the items cited. If neither criterion applies, alphabetical or chronological order may be appropriate. Unless citation order is prescribed by a particular journal style, the decision is the author’s and must not be edited without the author’s permission. Please see CMOS 15.30.

Q. The author of a scholarly book in media studies cites Alexa more than once as a source in the bibliography as a website (As in “Alexa, what are the top . . .?”). Does Alexa belong in a scholarly bibliography, and if so, is it in fact a website?

A. There is no aspect of social media that is outside the scope of scholarly research. If someone is writing a dissertation on an aspect of Alexa, they’re going to be quoting Alexa. Bibliographies normally contain websites, so Alexa.com is a qualified candidate. A single Alexa announcement may be quoted in the text or in a note along with relevant information (access date, device, software version number, browser, operating system, etc.), rather than in a formal citation. A bibliography entry for individual announcements is unnecessary.

Q. How would you handle the plural of a term of art like “artist’s proof,” which itself contains a possessive as the first word, when referring to proofs of multiple artists? It seems clear that we would say “artist’s proofs by the engraver Combet” to refer to several proofs by the single engraver Combet. I think we would also say “artist’s proofs by the two engravers Combet and Haley” (referring to several proofs by each engraver), because we are using the plural of the term of art or unit “artist’s proof,” which is shorthand for “a proof of an engraving by an artist.” Stated differently, adding an “s” to proofs is sufficient to make the term of art “artist’s proofs” plural, and we don’t need to use the plural of the first term as well when two different engravers are involved, since we are still just referring to multiple examples of the term of art “artist’s proof.” We should distinguish this case from the use of “artist” as a normal possessive and not as part of a term of art, in which case we would need to use the plural of the possessive (artists’) when referring to proofs by several artists, but I don’t think we would say “artists’ proofs by the two engravers Combet and Haley” when using “artist’s proofs” as a term of art. If we decide that the possessive of “artist” is singular in the case of multiple proofs by a single engraver and plural in the case of multiple engravers, we are still left with the unclear case when the number of engravers is not specified, i.e., when just using the term “artist’s proofs.” An analogous situation might arise with a term like “baker’s dozen” but not with normal possessives like “manufacturers’ coupons.”

A. Right.

Q. How many spaces should there be between the end of a paragraph and a subheading? How many spaces after the subheading and the start of the new paragraph?

A. Chicago paper-writing style is covered in Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Comprehensive tip sheets for setting up a paper are available for free at the Turabian.org website. For subhead spacing, please see Turabian Tip Sheet 7, which advises two blank lines above a subhead and one blank line below.

Q. I just read your explanation of the use of Ms with a period as a shortened combination of Miss and Mrs. Boy are you wrong. Please read the feminist history and arguments of the early 1970s.

A. This use of Ms. predates the 1970s by several decades. Please read your dictionary!