Introduction to CMS


The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) provides citation advice for students in the humanities and social sciences. CMS is known primarily for its Notes and Bibliography system, where writers use detailed footnotes or endnotes in combination with a final bibliography.

For writers in the sciences, CMS does provide an Author-Date citation style (similar to APA), but that will not be our focus of this introductory guide.

Our guide to CMS will teach you the rules found in the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.). However, do be aware that occasionally we follow the more student friendly advice provided in Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (9th ed.). This applies especially to the rules for formatting an essay.

Using Notes

What is unique about CMS is its use of footnotes (or endnotes). Whereas MLA and APA require writers to cite their sources right in the body of the text, CMS tends to keep the text free of clutter. Most bibliographic information is provided in the notes. This way it’s possible to provide a detailed citation every time a source is mentioned for the first time.

To create a note in MS Word, go to the References tab, and click on Insert Footnote (or Insert Endnote).

The first time you cite a source, you’ll need to give fairly detailed information (as in this citation of a book):

The Q-tip, or cotton swab, was advertised as the end of ear wax, but, as Hegel found out, history has no end, and doctors now warn people that Q-tips pose a significant danger.¹

1. Bernard Upperlip, A Brief Inquiry into the History of Ear Wax (London: Candlelit Press, 2011), 98.

If you also provide a full bibliography at the end of your paper, you are allowed to cite less information (though consult your teacher first!), but most often your first citation of a source should be as complete as possible.

Information in a footnote is separated using commas. By contrast, in your bibliography you’ll want to use mostly periods:

Upperlip, Bernard. A Brief Inquiry into the History of Ear Wax. London: Candlelit Press, 2011.

You’ll also notice that now the author’s name is inverted, the publication information for a book is no longer in parentheses, and the page number does not have to mentioned (though you do need to give a page range when citing a chapter in a book).

Finally, after you’ve cited a source in a footnote, subsequent citations can be much shorter. Often you can do with the author’s name, a shortened version of the title, and the page number:

2. Upperlip, History of Ear Wax, 99.

In such cases, CMS used to recommend writing Ibid. (the same), but the current style guide suggests you avoid this abbreviation.

The notes and bibliography system described here is what CMS is all about. With a bit practice you’ll get the feel for it soon enough.


With our APA and MLA citation guides we have kept in-text citation separate from final citation (in the Works Cited or References page). For CMS we will use a different approach. For each type of source (periodical, book, etc.) we will provide simultaneously examples of both footnotes and bibliographic entries. That way it’s very easy to see how you would cite a source in both the notes and the bibliography.

Finally, we haven’t covered every last type of citation. In particular, we’ve left out legal sources, for which we recommend you consult one of the following texts:

  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation 
  • ALWD Guide to Legal Citation
  • Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation 

Additional Resources

While our CMS citation guide covers a lot of information, we do provide a few additional resources you might find handy:

Also, if you’re likely to write a lot of research papers, we recommend you check out the free Zotero citation software (no affiliation).