Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) Formatting Guide

How to Format Chicago Style
By Nikki Borgel on Sep 25, 2020
eContent Pro International
Chicago Style

As an author, you know the importance of avoiding plagiarism claims by properly citing references within your research documents, and you are also aware of possible setbacks and/or rejection by not adhering to the publisher’s guidelines. One of the most difficult style guides to learn is Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). CMOS includes two different citation styles including the Author-Date system, which is most often used in the humanities within subjects such as literature, history, and the arts. There is also the Notes-Bibliography (NB) system, which is preferred in the science and social science realms of academia.

As with any citation style, the complexity is in the details, and it can take a significant amount of focus to master the format for your manuscript. Fortunately, there are many professional copy editors who specialize in CMOS, including the editors at eContent Pro International. Due to the complexity of CMOS, utilizing a professional editor or service will help you avoid publication delays and potential accusations of plagiarism. Find below key guidelines from eContent Pro International’s expert editorial team on how to properly format CMOS.

General Guidelines

When it comes to the general formatting of your manuscript, CMOS has basic guidelines to follow including:

  • All text should be double-spaced unless it is part of a block quote, caption, or other special inclusion.
  • All pages should be numbered in the top right header starting on the first page of text.
  • Margins should also be set at no smaller than 1 inch.

Unlike other formatting guidelines, CMOS provides more flexibility in the stylistic aspects of your paper. For instance, there is no required font choice or font size. CMOS recommends a legible font size and style, however it is important to note many publishers have their own guidelines, so be sure to consult the publisher in addition to the overarching style guide.

Title Page

The title page is an important requirement in CMOS. The title page will include the title of the manuscript, author name(s), course/journal/publisher (if required), and the date. This page should be formatted as follows:

  • All text on the title page should be center-aligned and double-spaced, and written in the same font as the rest of the text.
  • The title should appear about ⅓ of the way down the page, in headline capitalization, bolding optional.
  • If there is a subtitle, the main title ends with a colon and the subtitle appears on the following line, in the same font and size as the main title.
  • Any additional information may be added about ⅔ of the way down the page, such as the author’s name, course title and code, date, etc. Each new piece of information appears on a new line.
  • The title page should not have a page number but should be included in the page count.

Block Quotes

Within the main text of a research paper or manuscript, some authors need or choose to include long quotes from another body of work or research. Any quote of prose that is five or more lines long, or more than 100 words, or an excerpt of poetry longer than two lines, should be formatted as a block quote in order to stand out from the rest of the author-written text. To format a block quote, you should:

  • Begin a new line
  • Use special formatting to indent the paragraph/excerpt
  • Use single spacing
  • Not utilize quotation marks

By following these guidelines, it makes it easy for readers to understand that the quoted text is not the work of the author, but instead the work of another source material.


Special headings are highly recommended in CMOS to split up long papers that would otherwise appear cumbersome. The CMOS guidelines for headings are as follows:

  • Level 1: Centered, bold, or italic font used, and headline-style capitalization
  • Level 2: Centered, regular font used, and headline-style capitalization
  • Level 3: Flush with left margin, bold or italic font used, and headline-style capitalization
  • Level 4: Flush with left margin, regular font used, and sentence-style capitalization
  • Level 5: Beginning line of the paragraph (no blank line after heading), bold or italic font, sentence-style capitalization, and terminal period used

Note: The levels indicate the order of headings and subheadings. Level 1 is your main heading, level 2 is the first subheading, and so on.

Author-Date In-Text Citations

The Author-Date format for in-text citations looks traditional and reminiscent of other popular formatting styles with its use of parenthetical citations. These citations are inserted into the body of the text wherever an outside source material is referenced, paraphrased, or quoted. These parenthetical citations include the authors last name, year of publication, and page number (when applicable). Find below an example of standard citations:

  • Ex: (Smith, 2020) or (Smith, 2020, p. 34)

These CMOS standard citations can vary depending on the sources used. Variances of these citations can include:

  • Citations with multiple works
    • Each work is separated by a semicolon
      • Ex: (Smith, 2020, p. 34; Jones, 2018, p. 14)
  • Multiple authors
    • Up to three authors are listed
      • Ex: (Smith, Jones and Wilson, 2020, p. 34)
    • Four or more authors use only the first author’s name, et al
      • Ex: (Smith et al., 2020, p. 34)
  • Citations with no author
    • Replace w/ organization or article title
      • Ex: (World Health Organization, 2019, p. 6)

Notes-Bibliography Footnotes

In-text citations look very different in the Notes-Bibliography format of CMOS. Rather than parenthetical citations, footnotes are used. This form of citation is less disruptive to the reader because it adds no additional words to the body of the text and instead features a small superscripted number where a parenthetical citation would otherwise be. These numbers start at 1 and continue in order through the body of the work with corresponding footnotes being labeled at the bottom of the page. Below are some additional guidelines for how the footnotes should be styled.

  • Numbers at the beginning of citations should be full-size followed by a period.
    • Ex: 27.
  • The first use of a source includes a near full bibliographic citation.
    • Book Format: Author Name, Title (Publisher city: Press, Year), page #(s)
    • Journal Format: Author Name, “Article Title,” Journal Title Edition, no. Issue (Publication date): Page Number, DOI (if digital)
  • Subsequent uses of the source can be shortened using author’s last name, title of the work, and page number. Shortened notes can also shorten the title to a few or even a single keyword.
  • If a footnote is citing the same source as the one above it but using a different page, the last name and page number are the only information required.

Reference List and Bibliography

When it comes to fully citing all your sources, an in-depth list of references is required. In CMOS those using the Author-Date format create a “References” page and those using the Note-Bibliography format create a “Bibliography” page. It is important to note that some places do not require a full bibliography when footnotes are used. If you are unsure about the requirements for your work, it is always best to include the full bibliography.

While the titles for the reference lists of the two CMOS formats are different, their content is organized in the same manner.

  • The citation list should begin on its own page at the end of the manuscript.
  • It is titled in the top center and two lines are left blank prior to the first citation. Afterwards, only one line is required between references.
  • References should be organized in alphabetical order and use hanging indents to clearly set them apart.
  • When citing online sources, access dates are not required and DOIs should be used in place of URLs whenever possible.

Find below the general format for CMOS citations.

  • Last Name, First Name. “Title of Chapter or Article.” Book or Journal Title, Page numbers or Edition, no. Issue Number. Translated by, Edited by (if applicable). City of Pub: Press. Year. DOI or Link.

The above guidelines are only the beginning to understanding CMOS. Due to the challenges of formatting manuscripts in CMOS, and to assist scholars in easily implementing and following publisher guidelines, eContent Pro International offers affordable, high-quality Copy Editing & Proofreading services. Our team of professional, native-English-speaking editors have helped thousands of authors correct any faulty spelling, grammar, punctuation, flow, and much more in addition to formatting their documents to adhere to Chicago, Harvard, APA, MLA, AMA style, and others. Avoid unnecessary surcharges and/or conditional acceptances from standard and Open Access publishers by submitting professionally copy-edited work with a certification from a professional.

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