Episode 23: November 2, 2006
Grammar Girl here.
Today's topics are style guides and how to deal with book titles.
Joe called in with this question:
With all of the style guides that are out there -- “APA,” “MLA” -- why would anyone use "Chicago"? I was finding it very hard to believe when I first looked at the “Chicago” style guide after the “APA” and “MLA” references that the “Chicago” style guide that was something that was used by anything less than a commercial writer. Possibly on someone's doctoral thesis, but for an undergraduate to have to deal with that kind of detail just seems ridiculous. Just wanting to hear your opinion on this.
What is the Chicago Manual of Style?
The Chicago Manual of Style is one of the oldest and most comprehensive style guides on the market. The fact that it is so comprehensive can be both a strength and a weakness, and Joe points out the weaknesses: it can take a while to find what you are looking for, and the size of the book can be intimidating to students. Nevertheless, I find it indispensable because it has so much information that I can't find anywhere else.
Benefits of the Chicago Manual of Style
The way I work is that I usually reach for the Associated Press Stylebook first because it's short and clear, so it is easy to find things if they are included. But, I often have to go to Chicago to find things that aren't included in AP. For example, I started with AP, but then went to Chicago to find out how to deal with a shortened book title, because in his question Joe shortened the Chicago Manual of Style to simply Chicago (and I learned that you treat it just as you would a regular title, and italicize it, or in the case of Grammar Girl style, it goes in quotes because listener questions are already italicized). It turned out that the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers also had a section on shortened book titles, so in this case I could have looked there next and found the answer, but often I just jump to Chicago because I know the answer will always be there.
Another example of something I could only find in Chicago is how to handle punctuation in bulleted or numbered lists. I couldn't quickly find anything on this subject in MLA or AP, but it is covered in Chicago.
These types of questions might seem arcane, but for me they come up every day, and I imagine that they would come up at least occasionally for other writers, including undergraduates. Chicago also has an excellent index that I find more helpful than the strictly alphabetical layout of some other style guides because it doesn't leave me wondering if I couldn't find what I wanted just because it was was listed in some way that I hadn't considered. For example, would shortened book titles be under “book titles,” or “shortened book titles,” or “titles,” or something else?
Different Style Guides Have Different Uses
Style guides also have different uses. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook is primarily for writers who work at newspapers or news magazine; the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers is obviously for writers of research papers, and it's used most commonly in the liberal arts and humanities. Writers of research papers in the sciences, on the other hand, may be more likely to use the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or American Medical Association Manual of Style If I had to peg down The Chicago Manual of Style, I'd say that its primary audience is book authors, but as you might have gathered by now, I think Chicago is great for everyone.
Again, this may all seem arcane, but it is good to have the right style guide for the right purpose, and also to know what the other style guides advise. For example, last week when I was looking for as many ways as possible to use quotation marks, I used AP style to say that book titles can go in quotation marks. A lot of people wrote in to say that was wrong because almost all the other style guides say book titles should be either italicized or underlined. I'm guessing that most of the people who wrote in aren't familiar with AP style, and there's really no reason they should be. So, even though it isn't wrong, I probably should have clarified which style guide I was using because there are differences between the style guides (and especially because AP is in the minority by saying to use quotation marks).
Style Guides and Writing for the Internet
And, Travis from Omaha, Nebraska, asked an interesting question related to book titles. He wanted to know what to do when the style says that titles should be underlined but you are writing for the web, where underlined words look like links. First, it's pretty easy to avoid this problem because most style guides say that you should italicize titles or put them in quotation marks. If the style is absolutely emphatic, for example if you're following the style of a medical journal for referencing citations and it has to be underlined, then underline it and hope for the best. Otherwise, pick a style that is more web-friendly and either italicize the title or put it in quotation marks.
I think that style guides are evolving in response to the web to deal with problems like this anyway. For example, my copy of the MLA (the fifth edition) says to underline titles and doesn't give the option of italicizing, but I found an online reference that says the sixth edition recommends either underlining or italicizing book titles, so I suspect style guides are evolving in response to the specific problems with underlining on the web.
And, here's an interesting side note: underlining text is a way to tell typesetters that you want them to set the words in italics. So, if you are writing in a way that italics aren't possible, such as writing something by hand or if you are really retro and are using a typewriter, then you underline the text that would have otherwise been italicized.