How Not to Look at Illustrations in The Chicago Manual of Style

Binoculars that look comically human.Editor’s Corner

As a reader of the email that comes to The Chicago Manual of Style, I regularly find myself explaining the purpose of the illustrations (figures and tables) to puzzled users. Two recent queries:

Q1. I was trying to determine if it was acceptable to use a shorter citation after a full citation and noticed that note 4 in figure 14.1 uses ibid., not a short or shorter citation.

Q2. In figures 1.2 the copyright information appears flush left in 1.2, and in figure 1.3 it appears centered. In 1.4 it’s flush left again. Which is it?

The writer of the first question seems not to have noticed that the purpose of figure 14.1, as its caption indicates, is to show how a note is continued from the previous page. True, the example happens to be taken from a book whose writer decided to use ibid., but that is incidental; it doesn’t mean that the use of ibid. is the only acceptable way to cite a source after the first full citation. In fact, if you put “short citations” or “ibid.” into the Search box at CMOS Online, you’ll learn from paragraphs 14.29 and 14.34 that CMOS prefers short citations to the use of ibid. 

As for the second question, according to their titles and captions, figures 1.2–1.4 show “a typical copyright page,” “the copyright notice of a second edition,” and “part of a copyright page acknowledging earlier publication of content.” If their purpose had been to show the correct justification of a copyright page, the title or caption would say so. But there is no single correct way to justify a copyright page. Graphic designers specify justification one book at a time, and CMOS is happy to let them have their way in order to help the copyright page fit into an overall book or journal design. A glance at the variety used in the examples should suggest to a reader that various styles are acceptable.

Figures in CMOS—or in any document—should be taken as advertised. Read the title and the caption to understand the point of the illustration, and take any unrelated content of the figure as irrelevant background.

Something that might not be immediately obvious to readers is that many of the figures in the Chicago Manual are pictures of pages from published works, not pages from manuscripts being prepared for publication. In a manuscript (such as those shown in figures 2.4 and 2.5), Chicago style is to avoid full caps for chapter titles. (See paragraph 2.17: “Titles for chapters and other parts of a manuscript usually begin on a new page. Use upper- and lowercase letters rather than full capitals.”) During publication, however, the manuscript is given to a graphic designer who chooses styles for typesetting, so that in print, chapter titles may appear any number of ways, including full caps.

Figures in CMOS—or in any document—should be taken as advertised. Read the title and the caption to understand the point of the illustration, and take any unrelated content of the figure as irrelevant background.”

You might well ask, Why doesn’t the Manual just make sure that everything in every figure is according to preferred Chicago style? That would be nearly impossible. First, the figures are taken wherever possible from actual published sources, and it’s a rare document that conforms to a given style book in every small particular. (See figure 2.3 for an example of a style sheet, showing how a copyeditor records departures from style while editing.) Second, even if style is followed religiously, most style guidelines allow for alternatives and variations depending on context. There’s simply no single right way to edit a document.

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Note: All references are to the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.

 

Carol-SmallEditor’s Corner posts are the opinion of Carol SCE2 thumbnail with borderFisher Saller, editor of the Chicago Manual of Style Online Q&A and author of The Subversive Copy Editor, now in its 2nd edition. Find Carol on Facebook and Twitter (@SubvCopyEd).

Top photo courtesy of Creative Commons

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The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition

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