Chicago Formatting: Style & Definition

Instructor: Lincoln Davis
What do your instructors mean, exactly, when they ask for 'Chicago' source citations in your essays? Get an overview of the two main Chicago Manual of Style source citation systems and some of their most common uses in academic writing.


The Chicago Manual of Style
CMOS 16th ed.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS or CMOS) itself is an encyclopedic reference book which spans a wide range of topics about American English from grammar and punctuation to bookmaking. A new edition of the manual is released once approximately every 10 years by the University of Chicago Press and is currently in its 16th release. The Chicago Manual of Style source citation guidelines used in academic writing make up a small but very important and well-known portion of that major reference work.

Two Chicago Citation Systems

Often used and found in history courses, CMS guidelines offer a set of simple, elegant formulas to cite sources both within the body of your essay and at the end, as part of the 'back matter.' The Chicago style offers two systems for citation: Author/ Date and Notes/ Bibliography. The Author/Date system is more similar to the familiar MLA format for essays commonly assigned in English composition courses. The Notes/ Bibliography system is more popular among scholars in the humanities. Representative formulas for each are included below.

In the body of your essay, the Author/Date system makes use of in-text citations, which appear within your paragraphs themselves. The Notes/Bibliography system uses footnotes, which give information about sources at the bottom of the page in which they are used. If your instructors require you to cite with Chicago style, be sure to ask them whether they prefer Author/Date or Notes/Bibliography.

After the conclusion of your essay, your instructor will expect a bibliography (Notes/Bibliography system) or a references page (Author/Date system). A bibliography will include a complete list of all the sources you read to inform yourself about the topic of your essay. The reference page will list only the sources that you made direct use of in your writing by quoting, paraphrasing or summarizing. The CMS reference page is equivalent to what is referred to in other style guides as the works-cited page. Once again, make sure to find out which sort of back matter your instructor would like you to include with your academic writing.

Frequently Used Chicago Citation Formulas

In-Text Citations

Before a Direct Quote:

  • When it came to segregated housing, Hettie Jones (1990, 159) points out that 'complaining did not solve the problem.'

After a Direct Quote:

  • When it came to segregated housing, Hettie Jones points out that 'complaining did not solve the problem' (1990, 159).


  • (Source material in text:) When it came to segregated housing, 'complaining did not solve the problem.' 1
  • (Footnote at bottom of page:) 1. Jones, How I Became Hettie Jones, 159.

References Page:

Jones, Hettie. 1990. How I Became Hettie Jones. New York: Penguin.

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