Help! I Have to Use Chicago Style!

Students, professionals, novelists, editors: there may come a day when an instructor, boss, or publisher hands you a very large book or emails you a website link and says, “We use Chicago style—here you go.”

So what is “style,” and what does it have to do with Chicago? And which book or website is the official source for someone required to use Chicago style in their work?


In writing, style involves everything from when to use italics and capitals and abbreviations to how to cite a newspaper article to whether it’s OK to write a sentence fragment. (It’s OK.)

Chicago Style

Chicago style is named for The Chicago Manual of Style, a reference book for writers and editors first published by the University of Chicago Press in 1906 and now in its 17th edition.

In the 1930s, the Press published Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, often called simply “Turabian,” and soon to be in its 9th edition.

Both books are official sources for Chicago style and are internationally recognized for their authority.  Take a look at the tables of contents of CMOS and Turabian to see at a glance the issues that each book covers.

CMOS or Turabian: Which One Should You Use?

A closer look at the two books can help you decide which one is the better fit for your work.

The Chicago Manual of Style
The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

The Chicago Manual of Style is truly comprehensive, containing guidelines on the entire writing and publishing process for almost any document, from a student paper to a novel to an office memo to scholarly research. Its three sections cover (1) the publishing process of both books and journals, (2) grammar, style, and usage, and (3) source citations and indexes.

—The Chicago Manual is available both in a hardcover edition OR in a fully searchable online edition by annual subscription. The content is the same whether accessed online or in the book. CMOS is the only comprehensive style manual available online.

—Anyone familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style has an advantage in the publishing world. The Manual is used globally by corporations, governments, and academic institutions. Your college or company might already subscribe to CMOS Online. If you aren’t sure, ask your librarian.


—Weighing in at 3.65 pounds (1.66 kg), The Chicago Manual of Style is one hefty tome. While every one of its 1,146 pages may be useful to those who need complete publishing advice, most students can get by with less tonnage.  Turabian, which focuses purely on paper-writing, is both easier to master and easier to tote.

—The Manual assumes that the reader already knows how to plan and research a writing project. It does not cover paper-writing basics like how to set up title pages, take notes, or draft an outline, which are covered fully in Turabian.


Turabian thumbnail

A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations
Kate L. Turabian, revised by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Staff

—Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers is the premier guide for students writing a paper, thesis, or dissertation. It takes an advanced college student or graduate student through every detail of planning, researching, and writing a paper: finding a topic, doing the research, taking notes, quoting from and citing sources, designing tables and figures, drafting, revising, and polishing.

—Turabian is shorter (and costs less) than The Chicago Manual of Style, and thus it is easier to navigate and absorb, yet it contains Chicago styles and examples for all the main types of sources normally found in research papers.


—There is not yet an online edition of Turabian’s Manual for Writers, although it is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats.

—Turabian does not include a grammar chapter.

A Bonus Book

But wait! There’s a third choice for advanced high school students and college students who are looking for a solid introduction to all the basics of paper-writing:

Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers
Kate L. Turabian, revised by Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and the University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff

Designed for less advanced writers than Turabian’s Manual, Gregory G. Colomb and Joseph M. Williams’s edition introduces students to the art of defining a topic, doing high-quality research with limited resources, and writing an engaging and solid college paper.

Part 1, “Writing Your Paper,” discusses choosing and developing a topic, validating sources, planning arguments, writing drafts, avoiding plagiarism, and presenting evidence in tables and figures.

Part 2, “Citing Sources,” begins with a succinct introduction to why citation is important and includes sections on the three major styles students might encounter in their work—Chicago, MLA, and APA—with full coverage of electronic source citation.

Part 3, “Style,” covers essential style matters, from punctuation to spelling to presenting titles, names, and numbers.

For college-level papers, the Student’s Guide covers all of the basics and introduces the concepts that are covered more expansively in both Turabian and The Chicago Manual of Style.

Please see our commenting policy.

2 thoughts on “Help! I Have to Use Chicago Style!

  1. Don’t forget the Manual de estilo Chicago-Deusto! (Out of curiosity, are there plans to update this text based on CMOS 17?)

    • Good point, Sean! Deusto University is in charge of updates to Manual de estilo Chicago-Deusto.

Comments are closed.