Editing Automated Source Citations

CMOS 14.5 in the Spotlight

In the old days, authors wrote out their source citations from scratch, and editors checked them to make sure they were correctly formatted. Now there are tools that will do this for you, from online “Cite” buttons to full-featured citation management apps. Most of these will apply Chicago style automatically.

This sounds good, but from an editor’s perspective it isn’t quite perfect. Automated source citations depend on metadata—the details that identify a book or other type of work online—and this metadata doesn’t always lend itself to a properly styled citation.

Fortunately, any problems are usually easy to fix. Let’s put this to the test with a pair of sources: a book and a journal article.

The Jungle

Say you’re editing a Word manuscript for a new book on the impact of industrialization on traditional food cultures in the United States. The author did a lot of research and, as we’ll soon discover, relied on software to create the citations and add them to the manuscript.


One of the cited sources is Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the classic 1906 novelistic exposé of working conditions in Chicago’s meatpacking industry. It’s cited several times. Here’s the first footnote, which cites page 43:

1. Sinclair, The Jungle, 43.

That’s a shortened citation, which is perfectly fine in Chicago style, provided the same source is listed in full in a bibliography. Here’s the bibliography entry:

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. Doubleday, Page & Company, 1906.

That’s mostly fine too. But Chicago prefers to omit corporate identifiers like “Inc.” and “Co.” from publishers’ names in source citations, whether these are spelled out or abbreviated (see CMOS 14.134).

Chicago also recommends recording the city of publication (though the trend has been toward dropping that element). That info needs to be tracked down—preferably from the title page (or copyright page) in the book itself or a facsimile like this one from Google Books:

Title page for The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1906.

Here’s the edited result:

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, Page, 1906.

Journal Article

Let’s pretend that the author of our manuscript also cites a bunch of articles from academic journals. For example, here’s a note that cites pages 72–73 in a journal article on Native American food production:


Obviously, the ALL CAPS have to go. In MS Word, you can avoid retyping the title (and potentially introducing an error) by making use of the Change Case feature in the Font group under the Home tab. Select the title, click the Aa icon, and then choose “Capitalize Each Word.” Then go back to “In,” “The,” and “Of” and apply lowercase. Here’s the result:

3. Ricart, “Cooking Food Customs in the Pot of Self-Governance,” 72–73.

But that title, at eight words, doesn’t quite qualify as a shortened title. In Chicago style, such titles are usually no more than four words (see CMOS 14.33):

3. Ricart, “Cooking Food Customs,” 72–73.

Now that we have a properly styled shortened citation to a journal article, let’s examine the bibliography entry:

Ricart, Kate. “COOKING FOOD CUSTOMS IN THE POT OF SELF-GOVERNANCE: HOW FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IS A NECESSARY INGREDIENT OF TRIBAL SOVEREIGNTY.” American Indian Law Review 44, no. 2 (2019): 369–402. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26974533.

Good, provided you fix the caps:

Ricart, Kate. “Cooking Food Customs in the Pot of Self-Governance: How Food Sovereignty Is a Necessary Ingredient of Tribal Sovereignty.” American Indian Law Review 44, no. 2 (2019): 369–402. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26974533.

But let’s go back to that numbered note. Pages “72–73” can’t be right; the page range for the article is 369–402. Maybe the author meant “372–73.” A glance at the article itself—or a query to the author—should clear that up.

Where Did These Citations Come From?

The uncorrected versions of the citations above were generated for this post automatically using ZoteroBib, the free web-based citation tool from Zotero, an open-source reference manager maintained by the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. In real life (our manuscript on food production is only hypothetical), an author would have copied and pasted these citations into the manuscript as needed.

ZoteroBib is good, but it can’t do everything. For example, the all caps apparently come from the author and title metadata at JSTOR, which in turn reflects how that info appears in the article itself (in the brief listing at JSTOR and in the PDF version of the full article).

JSTOR’s recommended citation (behind a “Cite” button that generates the results in several formats, including Chicago) also has the caps:

Screenshot of JSTOR's suggested Chicago-style citation for the journal article by Kate Ricart.

For this post, we pasted the JSTOR link (i.e., the “Stable URL” listed next to the article) into ZoteroBib and got all those caps there too. Again, that’s because the metadata for the article appears that way. A diligent author would have fixed that glitch the moment the source was added by using ZoteroBib’s manual editing interface. Here’s what that looks like:

The first eighteen fields in ZoteroBib's editing interface.

There’s always the chance that an author, in fixing the title caps, will introduce a typo, but ZoteroBib’s interface is supported by spell-check, which should help.

Note in the screenshot above the option to edit the short form for the title. That’s a handy feature; even if the title weren’t in all caps, shortening it would still require human input.

Another thing that generally requires intervention by the author are the specific page numbers cited in a note. Here’s the ZoteroBib form for that (showing the adjusted short title):

Screenshot of ZoteroBib's note feature.

Those numbers (typed by our imaginary author) may be wrong (as we discovered earlier), but give credit to ZoteroBib for changing the hyphen to an en dash (which becomes more apparent in a different font).

As for The Jungle, we used a URL from Google Books—specifically, the one that points to the University of Michigan Library scan that we linked to above. The data there was pretty good, though it should be noted that Google’s “Create Citation” feature put “United States” rather than “New York” in the place of publication.

“Recommended Citation Format”

Some sources list a recommended citation format in the source itself; these can be copied and pasted directly into a manuscript. Those citations, which have usually been vetted by the publisher (or at least sourced directly from the publisher’s metadata), tend to be accurate. But they’re not necessarily in Chicago style.

Here’s the recommended citation for the journal article cited above, as listed in the article:

Kate Ricart, Cooking Food Customs in the Pot of Self-Governance: How Food Sovereignty Is a Necessary Ingredient of Tribal Sovereignty, 44 AM. INDIAN L. REV. 369 (2020), https://digitalcommons.law.ou.edu/ailr/vol44/iss2/6

Great, but that’s in Bluebook style (note the italics for the article title and the caps and small caps for the name of the journal), which is used by many authors and publishers who work primarily with legal citations. And though CMOS does cover elements of The Bluebook (see CMOS 14.269), that style usually isn’t appropriate for a work whose subject matter isn’t primarily legal.

An editor encountering that citation would need to intervene to apply Chicago style.

How Authors Can Help

The results from using ZoteroBib and the “Cite” options at JSTOR and Google Books were pretty good, but they weren’t perfect. Our advice for authors, in the spirit of CMOS 14.5, would be as follows: Use the tools, but check the citations against the sources themselves the moment you acquire them, making any necessary adjustments then and there. Then double-check the results in your final manuscript.

This will mean less work down the line for both you and your copyeditor.

Top image: Union Stockyards, Chicago, Illinois (July 1941). Photo by John Vachon. Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Please see our commenting policy.

2 thoughts on “Editing Automated Source Citations

    • When you add citations to Word using the full version of Zotero with its Word plugin, they do include hidden data. This data allows the software to update citations in the document as you edit them in the software. (Note that citations created with ZoteroBib, the web-based tool discussed in our post, do not include this embedded data.)

      Here’s what we say about this in CMOS 14.5: “Note also that your publisher may require that such citations be presented as ordinary text, stripped of any of the underlying codes such as fields or hyperlinks used in creating or organizing them.” We added this caveat because we know that some publishers may have trouble handling the hidden data.

      To remove the hidden data using the Zotero plugin, click “Unlink Citations” in Word’s ribbon under the Zotero tab. Or you can select all the text in the document and type Ctrl+Shift+F9 in Windows or Command-Shift-F9 on a Mac. (You may need to repeat this in the footnotes.) This will turn the citation “field codes” into ordinary text (but without removing italics or other formatting).

      Just be sure to save a copy of the document with the field codes intact in case you need to re-edit your citations.

Comments are closed.