Chicago Manual of Style Read-Along, Week 1: Getting to Know Your CMoS


Welcome to the first week of my 2017 readthrough of The Chicago Manual of Style. All year long, I’ll be reading the 16th edition of this classic style guide, and posting my thoughts here.

Before I get started, I do want to make one thing clear: as important, as historic, and as trusted as The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS, for short) is, it’s not the only style guide out there, and it’s not the only one that I am familiar with, or use in my work. It is very popular among nonfiction authors working in the humanities and even some fiction authors; it’s the style guide I used all through college, when I studied art and history of art, and I’m using it again now as I go back for another degree in English. For those reasons, CMoS is the style guide I’m starting with.

If this reading project goes well, I’d love to do this each year, working my way through the AMA, AP, MLA, and other style guides here, with all of you!

For this year’s read-along, I’ll be taking questions from the audience. If you want any clarification on the topic of the week, or CMoS in general — how it applies to certain work, or compares to other style guides on a particular topic — please feel free to comment below, and I’ll include the answer to your question in an upcoming week.

Week 1: Getting to Know Your CMoS

Part One: The Publishing Process
1: Books and Journals (1.1 through 1.4)


The opening to the 16th edition tells us it’s the first instance of the CMoS being published online and in print simultaneously. This is important for two reasons:

  1. You can now subscribe to online access for CMoS, rather than buying (and dragging around) a print copy.
  2. Even the century-old cornerstone of English-language style guides recognizes the importance of electronic publishing.

(That’s right, my lovely indie authors! You were the forerunners of something now spreading to every corner of the publishing world. Good job.)

To complement this shift, the 16th edition expands “the organizational and proofreading requirements of electronic publications”, including attribution, copyright, and permissions. They’ve also added a new chapter on Unicode, which is the list of symbols we agree to recognize as letters and punctuation when we type on computers.

The guide is now broken up into three sections: “on the process of writing, editing, and publishing; on matters of style and usage; and on documentation (including indexing).” Maybe most importantly, the guide now recommends only one style for each usage, instead of showing multiple styles and relying on individual editors to choose which suits them best. I don’t know that this is the best choice, but we’ll get into these changes more as we go through the guide this year.

I can say, right now, that I do agree with their choice to move toward “bias-free” language in the guide. I’ll highlight instances as they appear, but in general, nonfiction guides should be less biased, and more inclusive, whenever possible.


While this is mainly a list of thank yous, it’s also a reminder that the CMoS team pulls in sources from many different languages. The guide is written in English, is primarily for English-speaking authors and editors, and aims to be a guide for those working in English, but they do also include style points which make it possible to quote and attribute to non-English works. Again, we’ll get into this more when we get to that section of the book, but I wanted to mention it here. English-speaking and English-first authors and editors, as well as English-only publications, are an important and vital part of the global publishing scene, but they’re not nearly the only part.

It’s easy to forget that when you’re in an English-language environment, but everyone’s reading experience is broadened by exploring writing in languages other than their first. I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of international authors, including folks for whom English is not their first language, and I’m glad to see CMoS recognizing them as well.

Part One: The Publishing Process

1: Books and Journals


1.1: “Printed-and-bound books and journals and their electronic counterparts constitute the core of
scholarly publishing.” Basically, the driving statement behind the guide. Books and journals make up the biggest and most important part of academic publishing, as far as the guide is concerned, so this is what most of the guide is focused on. You can use it for other types of writing and editing, just keep in mind that it’s written for an academic audience, and not everything in the guide will be applicable to other areas of publishing.

1.2: “Electronic publication of scholarly books and journals in various formats is increasingly common.” Because of this, the guide will give formatting instructions for print work, and electronic work as a separate entity, even though you might have both a print and electronic version of any text, though their goal is to make ebooks look like print books, translated for the screen.

The Parts of a Book, Introduction

1.3: Rectos and versos: Did you know that the pages in a printed book are called “leaves” in the publishing industry? The “front” side of a page, on the right-hand side of an open book, is called the “recto”, and is always odd-numbered. The back side, the “verso”, is always even-numbered.

(Note to indie authors: When you’re self-publishing, and creating your own page layout, be certain to start page 1 on the recto, the right side of the book. When you only have an ebook, you don’t need to number the pages at all, but if you’d like to, conform to the industry standard page numbering. Doing this makes your book look more professional.)

1.4: Outline of the parts of a book: A book is usually in three parts, called the “front matter”, “text”, and “back matter”. By organizing your book in this way, it will look like other traditionally-published books. This is important to keep in mind when you’re self-publishing, but it also helps to use this structure when you’re creating a book to submit to agents/markets, because it shows you know what the final stage of your book might look like, and you’re familiar with publishing standards.

Basically, the front matter is the part of the book that includes information about your book, like the table of contents, publisher’s name, copyright page, and so on. If you think of a book as a sandwich, with the front and back matter on either side, the text of the book is the meat of the book — it’s what you have to say. This could be essays, illustrations, graphs, poems, stories… whatever your book is, it’s in here.  The back matter is where you place appendixes, sources (like a bibliography, or additional notes on your research), glossaries, and so on. If you want it in there to prove your argument, or give your readers suggestions for what to read next, but it’s not a part of the story you’re telling in the text, that’s back matter.

Next week, we’ll look at Page Numbers and Running Heads.

Any questions so far? Leave them below!

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