Chicago Style in need of return
January 15, 2008 —
Someone killed the Chicago Manual of Style. Considered one of the "big three" style guides for academic and scholarly writing, Chicago is rarely seen on campus, while MLA and APA loom disproportionately over the student body. Why is that?
Sometimes it's not entirely to do with the preference of the professor, it is the discipline of the writing. Social sciences and history tend to use Chicago while English and literature use MLA style. However, in the end, the style guide a student uses for graded papers will always be chosen by the professor, regardless of the academic discipline.
Chicago is rooted in tradition. The oldest of the big three, Chicago was the mainstay until the 1960s. That's when MLA was introduced as a result of Chicago being infamously slow when it came to releasing new editions. Some things never change. I don't like APA. It's all over the map and it looks sloppy. It forces citation to use initials in lieu of names, which can be confusing at times. It's also established by an unelected committee that provides no way to suggest or submit changes. MLA is better, however the in-text citations in parenthesis still do a great deal to break up an otherwise smooth paper or article.
Chicago, on the other hand, can be beautiful. The paper becomes flowing. There are no long citations at the end of sentences in parentheses, which always struck me as inherently childish. Not to mention, it's a lot easier for your eyes to scroll over a note than an in-text citation. The latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style was published in 2003 with an emphasis on citing electronic sources. Before that, the latest edition was published ten years earlier, in 1993, well before the Internet was mainstream. It's easy to see why APA and MLA slowly took over. However, five years after the latest edition, Chicago, full of beauty and rooted in tradition, remains rare at SVSU. In all my years here, no professor has ever requested Chicago for use in an assignment. This is unfortunate.
What's also a bit unfortunate is that a great deal of professors will teach their students style guides for the sole purpose of avoiding plagiarism. While shocking to some, avoiding plagiarism is not the primary purpose of style guides or works cited lists. They primarily exist for uniformity and as resources for fellow scholars to dig deeper into the subject of the article. Yet with all of the emphasis now being placed on style guides, particularly at the university level, I still get a kick out of watching a group of papers being turned in on the due date of a major assignment. The different cover pages alone speak volumes for how many student actually adhere to protocol.
When receiving an assignment that doesn't specifically require a particular style guide, I'll always use Chicago. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm hoping that the professor will see the elegance of the style, and require it for later use. For those who teach and are reading this, let this serve as an imploration to use Chicago. Let's revive the most common style guide in America and bring it back to SVSU in full form. Your students will thank you.