How do you feel about the Chicago Manual of Style?

The choice of a style manual can be more political than you might imagine. Just as people choose their style of dress, hair, and food and remain loyal to their choices, language and style preferences become entrenched, and few individuals welcome change.

I experienced this when I taught a technical writing seminar at a small testing firm. A learner in the class asked me for a recommendation for a published style manual. I answered, “In the absence of a corporate requirement to use a specific industry style manual like the AMA Manual of Style (American Medical Association) or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA Style), I think a great choice for your company for good general business style is The Gregg Reference Manual.”

One seminar member reacted very strongly, grumbling that The Gregg Reference Manual was for secretaries and demanding that members of the class should use The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS). After a rather heated discussion about the pros and cons of each, we dropped the issue, but when I came to teach my class the next week, I found a box of CMS manuals (a $1000 investment) on my desk to distribute to the class.

After that, learners would e-mail me with questions like “How does Gregg handle XX?” or “We’re having an argument here about how to format YY, and it’s not listed in Chicago. Could you look it up for me in your copy of  Gregg?”

This is why it’s valuable to know which style manual is best for which industry or purpose. CMS was developed for the University of Chicago’s academic faculty and is best today for authors of scholarly works. It is also used in social science publications and most historical journals.

In contrast, the Gregg Reference Manual states that it is “the business writer’s survival manual” and, as such, includes many items not found in CMS. I own both, but I find myself referring to Gregg at least ten times as much as I refer to the CMS for business and technical writing purposes.

Check out these links:

The Chicago Manual of Style Online
Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide
CMS Crib Sheet
Frick and Frick’s matrix comparing 12 current style manuals

Publication information:

The Chicago Manual of Style: The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers, 15th edition, 2003.

(New editions released about every 10 years)

University of Chicago Press

984 pages

ISBN: 978-0226104034

List price: $55.00 (about $30 on

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