Tips for Writers: Tip #10
The Chicago Manual of Style

Aside from the Oxford English or Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the most important book you will need to help you with the technical aspect of the writing process is The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition. This manual is essential reading for all writers and editors of book-length manuscripts as well as academic journal articles. A new edition of this seminal text is published roughly every decade. The manual is divided into three parts: the publishing process, style and usage, and documentation. It also includes an appendix that details the production process and how digital technology has transformed this part of the publishing process.

Part One (The Publishing Process) consists of four chapters, the first of which discusses the parts of a book and journal as well as web-based publications. Chapter two tells authors and editors how to prepare a manuscript for submission, and how to edit and proofread. The third chapter is dedicated to how to format and edit illustrations and tables for inclusion in a manuscript or article. The fourth chapter goes into current detail concerning copyright law, licensing rights, permissions, the publishing agreement, and the author’s rights and responsibilities within this highly important aspect of publishing.

Part Two (Style and Usage) is the longest, with chapters going into minute particulars about grammar and usage; the various types of punctuation and how to correctly apply them to your text; and issues with correct spelling and treatment of words for the sake of consistency throughout your manuscript. Part Two is also integral to the writing and editing process in its discussions of the following: how to consistently treat special names, titles and offices, place names, group and organization names, as well as scientific terminology, brand names, trademarks, and titles of various artistic and literary works.

This part continues with chapters about numbers (when to use numerals and when to spell out); abbreviations across the disciplines; a chapter devoted to foreign languages and how to correctly and consistently style them in your manuscript; the use and treatment of mathematics in text; and finishes with a chapter on the use of quotations and dialogue.

Part Three (Documentation) is an in-depth reference guide on how to properly and consistently (do you see a pattern forming?) format, style, and edit the notes and bibliographies that usually find their way into nonfiction works. These are the bane of every writer and editor’s existence, so be vigilant in how you construct, style, and edit these apparatuses. This part has two major documentation chapters: one on the use of notes and bibliographies (for more arts and humanities–oriented texts) and another on the author-date reference system used for texts written in the various sciences. The final chapter is all about indexes: their components, the principles and mechanics of indexing, as well as how to properly compile, alphabetize, edit, format, and style them.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, is an invaluable resource for all writers and editors, including freelance editors and self-published authors. Writers should be as clear and consistent in their writing as well as in the way they style certain names, titles, place names, and a host of other particular words and phrases (not to mention their notes and bibliography when writing nonfiction of an academic bent whether for a trade or academic publisher). In doing this they will make an editor’s job easier, allowing them to concentrate on the real core of the manuscript: the plot, character, voice, narrative flow, and writing style if it’s fiction, and the development of themes and ideas as well as voice, structure, and flow of the text if it’s nonfiction.

The manual is certainly not a lively read but it is a necessary one. All writers should have this text on their bookshelves. It is integral to the writing and editing process and if your manuscript is as clean, consistent, and clear as it can possibly be upon submission to a publisher, this will allow for a smooth production process in-house. So, for the sake of taking the edge off not just the writing or editing process, but the production one as well, I highly recommend getting a copy as soon as possible and diving in. Take it slow, read a chapter or two every few days, and in time you’ll see your writing change as well as a get a true appreciation for the ins and outs of what editors have to know and do to make your text as perfect as possible for production and publication.

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