Review of The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition

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The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition: jacket image
The 14th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style was for years the standard style reference for many book publishing companies. The new edition, the first revision in ten years, and the most substantial in more than thirty, seems likely to play the same role. (Note that there is now a 16th edition, which I hope to review soon. Overall, my impression is that it continues the path of the 15th, consolidates the new direction, but makes no significant changes. Much of what I say below about the 15th would thus apply to the 16th.)

Contents of The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition: The new edition has over 900 pages, including the bibliography and index. It opens with "The Parts of a Published Work," which covers magazines as well as books. Then come chapters on manuscript preparation and editing, proofs, and rights and permissions (which includes a useful introduction to U.S. copyright law). After these is a new chapter on grammar and usage, followed by what has always seemed to me to be the meat of Chicago: detailed guidance on handling punctuation, spelling, names, numbers, foreign languages, quotations and dialogue, illustrations, and abbreviations. Sizable chapters on documentation of sources in notes and bibliographies and on creating indexes wrap up the body of the book. Then come an appendix on the basics of design and production and another consisting of flowcharts showing the publishing process, the bibliography, and the index.

The 15th compared to the 14th edition: Much of what I've seen written about the new edition seems to me to focus on minutiae--a change of policy on dates, or a policy discussion about dashes. Somehow people lose sight of the obvious. What's obvious? The design is, to start with. The 14th edition uses a simple approach, which some would call classic and others old-fashioned. The 15th edition uses a greater variety of typefaces and weights in an effort to make information easier to locate on the page. It introduces blue as a second color. Blue has its greatest impact in the grammar information, where it is used to pick out the examples.

What's more important is that there is a considerable amount of new information. They now take account of the fact that much editing is now done on screen, and provide guidance for electronic publication and for citing information found on the Internet. The chapter on grammar and usage means that Chicago now answers many questions that were not addressed in earlier editions. There are many other updates throughout the book, and I see quite a lot of revision. For example, the material on commas has been reorganized, given new sub-headers, and designed to fit in about ten pages instead of fifteen. The intention seems to be to make it easier to use. Those used to the 14th edition may feel otherwise, of course.

Each item is, as before, numbered sequentially within a chapter, so that to find information on interjections, for example, you turn to 7.32. But the numbering of items has changed from the previous edition, so you will not be able to turn to the 14th edition if a copyeditor refers you to "CMS 6.104" on the issue of square brackets. That number will only take you to the right place in the 15th edition.

Comments: Chicago subtitles itself "The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers." I think that is a reasonable claim. In this compact 950+ page reference book, you will find answers to many questions, and a consistent way of deciding how to style a manuscript and a book. You may not always agree with their particular answer, but it will give you a starting point in deciding on your own style. The new edition has quickly been put into use by trade and academic publishers, and anyone with a copy of the 14th edition will find that it is no longer of practical use, as it is the 15th edition that is being used to answer questions of punctuation, capitalization, citation style, and other thorny issues.

Look at this as several different books bound together. One slim book explains the parts of a book or journal, how to prepare and edit a manuscript, and how copyright law underlies publishing. Another small volume covers grammar and usage. A large central chunk covers the minutiae of treatment of names, capitalization, abbreviations, and the like. Then comes another book on footnotes, bibliographies, and indexes. Last of all comes a pamphlet on design and production, followed by a very useful bibliography and index.

Any revision of such an authoritative work as the 14th edition of Chicago had become will not please everyone, but this is, to my mind, a necessary and highly useful update that brings it into the 21st century.

Who Needs The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition: If you work in trade or academic publishing, you probably have this on your desk already, because it has probably been adopted by your house as the style guide. Many writers will want to have it too, so that notes from editors and copyeditors will make sense, and to help you get a manuscript into shape before sending it off to a publisher. Teachers of writing will find it a useful and fairly easy-to-use reference. This is not likely to be useful to students below college, as it can be overwhelming.

More recommended books, magazines, and web sites (The complete Resources section from my Complete Idiot's Guide)

Where and How to Purchase The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (online):

You can, of course, also purchase CMS 15 at any bookstore. If they don't have it, they can order it for you.

This review is copyright © by Harold Underdown ( Google + Profile ). If you wish to reproduce it, please see the Terms of use. Last modified 3/16/2013.

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