on The Chicago Manual of Style

Mary Laur

One of the most useful traits an editor can possess is an openness to surprises, and no book I’ve ever worked on has surprised me more than The Chicago Manual of Style. Little did I suspect back in 1992, when I first read the Manual paragraph by paragraph for a basic manuscript editing class, that I would eventually join the team responsible for keeping this classic, century-old publication current. Nor would I have guessed in 1998, when I helped create the first manuscript for the 15th edition by slicing apart a bound copy of the 14th, that nine years later we would initiate the 16th edition by extracting the XML files used for the full-text HTML version of the 15th. And yes, a late adopter of technology like me may never have learned to fling around such terminology of the digital age if not for my work on the 16th edition, which will be published this summer. Go figure.
Still, the biggest surprises I’ve encountered in connection with the Manual have come in the responses of those who use the book, or at least understand its place in the canon. More often than not, people who hear that I work on the Manual–even those from outside the worlds of academia and publishing–instantly recognize the title, a rare treat for an editor in scholarly publishing. Sometimes they tell me stories of college days spent wrestling with proper footnote format or of interoffice battles over comma use, both of which likely involved recourse to the Manual. Inevitably, they ask me questions. Their curiosity increasingly centers on the broad issues that preoccupy those of us on the revision team, such as how changes wrought by technology affect everything from editing processes to citation style. But the question I still field most frequently concerns a matter of much smaller scale: