Styling Titles of Websites, CMOS 17

Continuing our series CMOS 17 in ’17, this week we’ll explain further one of the changes you will find in the new 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style when it appears in September. It’s not a big change, but it’s one you may use often. We mentioned it in an earlier post, and readers wrote back with questions. We love your questions! They give us a chance to clarify. (To ask a question about any of our posts, either comment below or click here.)

Titles of Websites

In Chicago style, the titles of websites are generally set in roman without quotation marks and are capitalized headline-style. Individual pages of a website appear in quotation marks. This style will not change:

{the website for the University of Chicago; the “Alumni & Friends” page}

However, Chicago style makes one exception: Some websites exist as a sort of extension or duplication of a well-known printed work, such as a newspaper, magazine, or reference work {Chicago Tribune, Scientific American, American Heritage Dictionary}. The titles of such printed works have traditionally been italic in Chicago style. For that reason, Chicago also treats their website titles in italics (not roman) to match the printed counterpart. This style will also stay the same:

{the website of the New York Times [print]; the New York Times online [online];  The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [print]; Grove Music Online [online]}

The question then arises, What about websites that have no printed counterpart but nonetheless have content very similar to that of printed works? What about big online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia? Or online dictionaries like Wordnik? They have no print editions, and according to the rule, should be styled in roman type with regular websites. And yet in a discussion or list of online reference works it would look inconsistent to single out their titles for roman treatment. So in CMOS 16 it was decided to put those titles in italics as well. This is where the change comes in.

Change in the 17th Edition

In revising CMOS for the 17th edition, we thought the previous recommendation could be improved.

So, in a small departure from the 16th edition, CMOS 17 will no longer make an exception for the title of a website that is analogous to a traditionally printed work but does not have (and never had) a printed counterpart. The titles of such websites will remain in roman type, per the general rule for website titles:

{Wikipedia; Wikipedia’s “Let It Be” entry; Wikipedia’s entry on the Beatles’ album Let It Be}

{Wordnik; Wordnik’s “demilune” entry}

Titles of websites with print analogues continue to be italic, as recommended in the 16th edition.

{the website of the New York Times; the New York Times online; Grove Music Online}

Consistency and Flexibility

Because a writer or copyeditor might not always know whether there is a printed analogue to a given website, and because there is often a reason to prefer consistency in the titles of websites regardless of their precise nature (such as in a list or bibliography or any time making a distinction would be confusing or distracting), editorial discretion is allowed when styling the titles of websites. Context, purpose, and audience—as always—must be kept in mind.

Flexibility and consistency. As long as a consistent style is maintained within any one work, logical and defensible variations on the style illustrated here are acceptable if agreed to by author and publisher. (CMOS 17, 14.4)

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3 thoughts on “Styling Titles of Websites, CMOS 17

  1. Since I haven’t been following CMOS, I am not sure why websites are never italicized. But after reading this post a question pops up: what if a website has originally come with a printed version but later on the printed version ceases publishing?

  2. I would think the decision of whether to italicize or not would be based on the type of content, not on whether it’s delivered in print or on a website. A journal is a journal, no matter how you read it.

    • Your view is a valid one that certainly enters into consideration in making style rules. Other readers feel that distinguishing between formats is helpful in evaluating the nature of a source and in tracking it down.

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