Book Review: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition
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The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. https://doi.org/10.7208/cmos17
The Chicago Manual of Style provides detailed guidance on the popular formatting and citation style known as Chicago style. The first edition, released in 1906, conveyed the typographical rules of its publisher, the University of Chicago Press. Many iterations later, the 17th edition, measuring approximately 1,150 pages, just over 100 more than its predecessor, is a hefty reference on formatting, grammar, usage, and citation styles for publishers, editors, and writers. It is divided into three general sections—Part I: The Publishing Process; Part II: Style and Usage; and Part III: Source Citations and Indexes—each divided into chapters and, further still, sub-sections numbered for easy reference and referred to as paragraphs.
I have long been a follower of this style guide. When I first began working in publishing, I was gifted a copy of the 16th edition, and, throughout my tenure at the press, the volume was always within easy reach. Many pages in the publishing process section became tabbed and well worn from repeated reference. When I decided to return to school, I took my style bible with me, often utilizing the sections on style and citations. I also discovered the online “Citation Quick Guide,” which presents a list of sample citations with limited commentary—a perfect resource for the busy student wishing to have an overview of citation styles without delving into the detailed guidelines and underlying explanations of the original volume.
This “Quick Citation Guide” is just one of the many resources which comprise The Chicago Manual of Style’s electronic counterpart. Rather than as an eBook—translating the discrete print volume into a discrete electronic file—the University of Chicago Press has chosen to present the electronic version of the manual as a website, of which the text of the current edition is only one section. A number of the website’s components are openly accessible, including the citation guide and a “Style Q&A,” in which the guide’s editors answer users’ questions. Moving inside a paywall, users can access the current edition as well as the previous edition and a community forum, where users of the guide can discuss questions. Thus, the website not only relays the reference’s content but also increases the accessibility of a potentially convoluted and dense manual by creating a community through these additional resources.
The electronic 17th edition takes full advantage of the website format by making each numbered paragraph a distinct webpage. Users accustomed to the print version thus encounter a very different reading experience, with the 52-page “Glossary of Problematic Words and Phrases” (5.250) taking up the same number of virtual pages as the three-lined “Academic Titles and Degrees in Index Entries” (16.40), which shares its two-page spread with seven other paragraphs in the print version. Unlike flipping through the print pages, I found clicking through each electronic paragraph a bit tedious, probably because of those discrete webpages with small amounts of text. This layout also forces a reliance on each chapter’s table of contents to navigate between paragraphs, as opposed to skimming print pages to find the desired content.
The online version, however, does add some helpful finding aids. A search bar allows users to search for keywords, with results directly linking to specific paragraphs, and the index contains hyperlinks to the referenced paragraphs. For readers who already know the number of the paragraph they need, a second search bar asks users to enter that number and then takes them directly to the corresponding webpage, bypassing navigating through multiple tables of contents or flipping through over a thousand print pages to locate the correct page.
Many versions of the print manual, mine included, are sprinkled with multicolored tabs to bypass this fumbling for pages. Fortunately, the online version has a similar bookmarking system, in which users can tag paragraphs for future reference. Although useful for repeat users, these bookmarks highlight the navigation problems of the online version: in the book level table of contents, a bookmark icon is present next to the chapter title, indicating how many paragraphs are bookmarked in that chapter. But the user is forced to navigate to the chapter’s table of contents to see exactly which paragraph is bookmarked and then click on the bookmarked paragraph’s title to be taken to the correct webpage. This tedious navigation could have easily been bypassed with a separate bookmarks list or direct hyperlinks from the book’s table of contents.
The note feature shares these navigational flaws while offering users another way to replicate the mark-ups of their worn print versions. For those users that have penciled notes in the margins of their print manuals, this feature offers a perfect digital alternative. Users can add notes to the entire paragraph or a selected portion of the online text, with notes appearing at the bottom of the webpage and, for the latter, also when hovering over the highlighted text. Users can truly take advantage of the text’s digital format with these notes’ functionalities. First, users have the option to hyperlink to other paragraphs. Do you think a paragraph from chapter 1 and another from chapter 14 are related? Add a hyperlink to both their notes to digitally connect the two pages, especially advantageous because it avoids having to navigate through multiple layers of tables of contents. Second, users can share notes. Have you made a realization specific to a project you are working on? Download that webpage, including the paragraph text and all notes, to your local drive or email a copy to a colleague who would find your thoughts relevant. These functions optimize personalized navigation and sharing in a way that the print object never could.
The veer from the print version continues with the manual’s figures and tables. Although the navigation between paragraphs differs between the print and electronic versions, the general presentation of the content remains consistent. Not so for the figures and tables, which are instead presented separately from the rest of the electronic content, each on their own webpages, which are accessible through the volume’s list of figures and list of tables. When individual paragraphs refer to a specific figure or table, a hyperlink connects the user to that figure or table. Only about half of the figures and tables, however, link back to the relevant paragraphs, further highlighting the website’s murky navigation. I much prefer the print version in which you can peruse the figures alongside the text, but I suppose I may need to adjust to the technology by opening the figures in a new tab. For those who want to have the image for offline reference, each figure and table—as well as the hyphenation guide (7.89)—is available as a downloadable PDF, another distinct advantage of the digital presentation.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of the digital version is portability. At approximately 1,150 pages, the print version is not light. It commonly sits on a bookshelf for easy reference, but its use outside of the office may be rare as few would want to lug the hefty volume around, no matter how highly they value its contents. Having the entire volume in an easily accessible format, wherever users go, without requiring any local resources besides bandwidth, increases the usability of the manual, especially for the publisher, writer, or editor on-the-go. Be warned, however, that this new convenience can be potentially plagued by the typical electronic woes, such as internet speed or data allowances. I found that sometimes my bookmarks and notes icons would not load or would load slowly. Additionally, bookmarks and notes do not function on mobile devices, as neither the button to add new items nor icons in the tables of contents appear.
For those looking to learn or reference the Chicago formatting and citation styles, The Chicago Manual of Style will always be the go-to resource. Despite each new edition’s growth in length and changes in content, the volume remains the same: the definitive—and only—guide to Chicago style. Given the print volume’s size and weight, the online version, with its additional features—many of which are freely available—is a good alternative for both brief and dedicated users who want portable access to the manual or want to move beyond the content to engage with The Chicago Manual of Style community.
Jessica Kirschner began her career in publishing in the acquisitions department at SUNY Press. She subsequently earned an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh, where she began exploring scholarly communications, open access, and digital publishing. She now serves as the Digital Publishing Librarian at Texas Tech University, where she is working to develop a digital textbook publishing program. She is a 2017 Society for Scholarly Publishing Fellow.
The first edition is freely available at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/dam/jcr:bba47b07-61ba-41c3-8c79-33c005c1f56d/CMSfacsimile_all.pdf. It is linked to in the electronic edition’s “About” section.