Essay Format: Chicago Style

What is the Chicago Style?

The Chicago Style Handbook is a compendium of formatting, reference, and citation guidelines applied to works written in (primarily) American English and published in social science journals. The handbook was prepared by the University of Chicago Press, and the first version was issued in 1906. Presently, at the time of writing, it’s in its 17th edition.
The guidelines for this formatting style are designed for social science professionals who publish their articles in periodicals, journals, etc. An alternative to the Chicago style, which is more aimed at students and researchers, is the Turabian format. It is made of slightly different requirements for citing and formatting academic articles. This style can also be applied to articles written in the social sciences, especially: history, business, the fine arts, etc.

Unlike many other formats, the Chicago Style Handbook recommends that authors use two different systems for citing sources: Notes-Bibliography System and the Author-Date System.

The Notes-Bibliography method requires the addition of numbered footnotes to the text with abbreviated versions of the citations at the end of the page. Full citations are collected on a separate bibliographic page at the end of the document. This method of documenting fonts is best for documents in the humanities disciplines.

The other method, the Author-Date System, requires that writers include the citation in parenthesis in the text after a quote or any information from other authors. The quotations in parenthesis must include the name of the author of the original source, the year of publication, and the page where the information used can be found at the source. Each quote must have an appropriate entry on a reference page at the end of the article. In contrast to the Notes-Bibliography method, the Author-Date system applies to scientific and social science articles.

As mentioned, the Chicago format is closely related to another style textbook called Turabian. It is a reference and citation system formed on the basis of the Chicago style. This format got its name from the author, Kate Turabian, from the University of Chicago. This format is usually used to write papers in the social sciences, e.g., Economics.

Importance of using the Chicago Format

Like other citation styles, the Chicago citation style is essential for a variety of reasons. In particular, it enables the writer to give credit for the original source of information that is used when writing a dissertation or research paper. It also gives some credibility to the writings of the author, as it shows the reader that the author has done sufficient research on the subject.

The difference between the Chicago and Turabian Styles

In short, Kate Turabian modified the Chicago format for students and researchers. Therefore, the primary difference is that the Turabian style is more straightforward, shorter, and has little requirements. In particular, there are no publishing guides because, unlike the Chicago style created for professionals publishing their papers, the Turabian style was created as a guide for students as they write papers and essays. However, most of the paper size guidelines in Chicago would be the same for Turabian-style paper, so with this article, you can be good with both styles.

What are the primary elements of the Chicago format paper? The Chicago and Turabian styles meant that authors should divide his document into three sections: Title page or Cover page, Main body, and Bibliography.

Some features of this style are:

  • The text has a double line spacing and in 12-point font.
  • The block quotes have indentations with a single space.
  • Footnotes, endnotes, and bibliographies also have a single space.
  • The page number at the beginning of the essay or research paper uses Roman numerals. While the rest of the research paper uses Arabic numbers. After the introductory pages, the page numbering will be set to 1
  • Page numbers in the main body. Usually, they are placed at the horizontal center at the bottom. At the same time, the other parts have their page numbers horizontally at the top.
  • The numbers in the chapter are distinguished from the normal page numbers by writing them capitalized roman.

Cover Page for Chicago style

The title page or cover page is the first page, and it introduces your work; therefore, spacing is very essential. Always inquire with your teachers for details on the structure to give your title page. However, the general rules for structuring a Chicago cover or title page are:

  • The title of the article or essay must be placed a third below the upper part of the page and justify it to the center.
  • The name, class information, and date of the author must come after the title of the document (all positioned several lines under the title).

Double line spacing

If you also need to include a caption, complete the title line with a colon and type the caption on the next line.

Note: Although all Chicago-style documents must have a title page, this rule does not always apply to Turabian-style work. Academic articles that follow this style guide may contain an academic page or may provide the title of the document on the first page, followed by the main section. However, if your teacher asks you to include a cover, the rules mentioned above also apply.

Main Body

The main section of the Chicago-style paper is the bulk of the essay and is where the authors communicate their main ideas and information on a particular topic. The Chicago style manual recommends a list of general requirements for the main section of the paper:

The titles of the sources included in the paper, notes, and bibliography must follow the capitalization in the style of the title.

Titles in the article, notes, and bibliography may be in italics or quotations based on the type of work to which they refer:

  • Larger works title, which includes books and periodicals, needs to be in italics.
  • Shorter works, which include chapters and articles, need to be placed in quotation marks.
  • The poem’s title needs to be placed in double quotation marks.
  • Titles of longer poems – should be italicized.
  • Titles of plays – should be italicized.
  • Longer poems titles must be in italics.

For other cases, ensure you use a simple approach while capitalizing. Do not abuse italics or quotes for any reason. Also, use lowercase letters when uppercase is not needed.

When mentioning something, make sure to create block quotes where they are required. For prose, it is recommended to block a quote when it exceeds five lines. Read more details about block quotes in this article.

Formatting your outline

Every citation has a different paper format that you must adhere to, but the basic format is:

  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Conclusion

The Chicago/Turabian style for writing papers has a similar format. While creating your outline, you can either follow a formal structure or use a plain outline with zero formatting.

Why Create an Essay Outline?

It might be part of the Assignment

It is possible that your teacher requires you to include an outline as a part of your paper. If it is a long paper, the instructors will usually request an outline as the first part of the writing task as it enables your instructor or teacher to monitor your progress.

It makes your work more organized.

Writing a research paper or essay can initially be daunting and look impossible. There will be many steps that need to be followed and sources that you need to combine to produce a paper. Your best chance at maintaining your paper organization through the writing process has an outline.

It helps you while forming your thesis statement.

Organizing your work before you start writing helps to make your thoughts clearer. In this way, you can develop a very good thesis statement.

Guidelines for paper format

Because the Chicago style is commonly used for publishing manuscripts, the Chicago Style Guide does not provide a lot of guidelines for formatting research papers. This is because each publisher has their own house style, and the authors must follow it precisely. There are various areas where guidance is provided.


Manuscripts: In general, manuscripts should have a double space. Exceptions are block citations, table titles, and lists in appendixes, which must have single spaces and certain introductory materials (for example, table of contents), footnotes or footnotes, and bibliography and reference lists, which must have single space inside, but has a blank line between each item separately.

For spaces at the end of sentences and after the colon: Chicago suggests space.


The margin must be at least one inch on the four sides. Certain types of writing, such as a thesis or dissertation, may require a larger margin on the left to allow for binding, but each institution will have various requirements.


The text must be justifying to the left.


Turabian suggests using a font that is easy to read and readily available to many people, such as Times New Roman or Arial. The size of Times New Roman must not be less than 12 points, and Arial not less than 10 points. Footnotes and endnotes may need different sizes, and ensure you refer to the guidelines of your instructor.


The pagination for the paper body and the back must use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). The first page, like the title page and the table of contents, must use lowercase Roman numerals (I, ii, iii, etc.) to put the page numbers; the general rule is to follow local rules and be established.

Chicago Format Heading

There are no strict rules from the Chicago Manual of style in relation to the headings and subheadings in the essay. However, there are a few recommendations to be considered:

  1. Put all subheadings on a new line
  2. Follow a headline-capitalization style.
  3. Maintain a consistent and parallel structure when writing the headings and subheadings
  4. In order to differentiate the subheading, you can use different font sizes.
  5. Avoid ending the subheadings with periods.
  6. The levels of the hierarchy should be at most three levels.
  7. You must maintain consistency and clarity at all levels.
  8. In order to differentiate levels of hierarchy, authors can use different fonts, bold or italic, or different positions on the page (preferably left or center).

In contrast to the Chicago Style Guide, Turabian offers more suggestions for formatting headings and subtitles at different levels. This system is optional but recommended. In the table below, you can find a comprehensive list of formatting suggestions for each of the three heading levels:

Citing Your Sources

Letting your readers where you got your information from is a very crucial part of writing an essay. This gives credit to the hard work of others. It lets readers know that your information can be trusted. They don’t have to take it from you; they can see what other researchers have written on the subject.

Citing your sources helps readers understand the context of your projects. You can let them that you have an in-depth knowledge of the work done by others and how it relates to your research.

Eventually, your readers may want to develop their research with yours. Citing helps them find out where you got your information from when readers conduct their own research. They can even cite you if you have officially published your article. You can read more about integrating other people’s research with your article in Chapter 7 of the Turabian Manual or Chapter 13 of the CMOS.

There is a need for citation in any of these situations:

  • If you are precisely quoting a source,
  • If you rewrite ideas from a source,
  • If your materials such as statistics, methodology, and data from a source while conducting your research.

The two citation styles

There are two citation styles for the Chicago format to let readers know that you have used information from other places and to show you where you got them.

The first is the notes and bibliography style. This style utilizes footnotes or notes at the end to convey the original source of information to readers. Since this style also usually provides the bibliography that readers consult, it is not always needed to do this if the sources are cited completely in your paper.

While the second style is the author-date style, the style uses in-text citation in parentheses to enable readers to know how they can check the reference list on the last page to locate the complete citation of the information.

When you are citing sources, generally, you would need some important information.

Who is the creator of the source? This can be an editor, author, translator, or even corporate body.

How can the source be identified? Probably, the information can include title, volume, page numbers, issue numbers, and the edition.

What is the information on the publication? Also, this might include the Publishing company name, the publication year, and the name of the book or journal that contains the information.

Where can your readers find the source? This is imperative for both online and offline sources found in rare book collections or archives. For online content, you must enter a URL or database name, if possible. For rare books or archive materials, you will need the name of the place you found and the name of the collection.

Numbers and Acronyms

In Chicago Style Format, it is best to use words instead of numbers for numbers less than 100. Therefore, you would need “seventy-five” instead of “75”. But if you are referring to a specific measurement (for example, “15 pounds”), you must still use a number.

For acronyms, first, explain the acronyms when referring to them and specify what they represent.

From that point, you should only use the abbreviation. Numbers or abbreviations should not be written when starting a sentence. You will have to rewrite the sentence so that the number or abbreviation appears elsewhere or write the sentence or the complete number: instead of “200 people were present at the seminar” or “Two hundred were present at the seminar,” use “We hosted 200 people at the seminar.

Chicago Style Bibliography (Footnotes and Endnotes)

If you are going by the Notes-Bibliography method, writing styles in Chicago and those in Turabian involve the use of footnotes or footnotes, each time you quote an external source or include information that has rewritten. In contrast, when using the Author-Date style, you must include parentheses in the text for citing sources.

Chicago Style Footnotes

Footnotes, as the name implies, are placed at the foot of every page. Each Chicago-style footnote is numbered, and its number must match the number added after a quote, excerpt, or paraphrased information. Chicago-style footnotes can perform any of the following functions:

  • Provide abbreviated excerpts for quotes and reworded materials.
  • Provide clarifications or additional notes on some terms, phrases, etc.
  • Provide basic information if required.
  • Provide links to external sources.
  • Talk about copyright permissions, etc.

This is the standard format for Chicago footnotes:

  1. Add footnotes at the bottom of the page.
  2. Put a footnote on the same page, providing the information you quote.
  3. Add a number to each note with the same number positioned after a quote or source you are citing.
  4. When writing your first note about a specific source, including all of the following information: The author’s full name, the title of the source, and details of the publication.
  5. When citing the same source again, the note only needs the author’s surname, an abbreviated form of the title (if the length of the title is longer than four words), and the page numbers.
  6. If you quote the same source and page repeatedly, use the word “Ibid.” meaning “from the same place.” If they come from different pages, use the word “Ibid.”, But also include the page number below.

Chicago Style Endnotes

The endnotes in Chicago are usually similar to the footnotes and have the same purpose. The only difference is that the footnotes are placed at the bottom of the page, endnotes are placed at the end of the document.

Endnotes are also known in the main part of the text with a small superscript number. Then, in front of the number of correspondents at the end of the paper, an author can give additional explanations.

Chicago Style Bibliography

Whether you use the Author-Date or Notes-Bibliography method to document the sources, your essay must have a separate page where you can write all references. In the Author-Date style, this page must have the References title. And if you use the Notes-Bibliography method, you should call it Bibliography. It is usually the last page of your paper and should have the bibliographic information from all external sources that you used in the article – those mentioned in the text and in the footnotes.

Below is a set of rules to follow when creating a Chicago-style reference page:

  • This page must have separate entries for every source you used and may also contain some other relevant sources.
  • All entries must start on a new line.
  • The top of the page should have a centralized title – Bibliography (for Notes-Bibliography style) or References (for Author-Date style).
  • Entries must be listed in alphabetical order.


Like other methods of formatting essays and research papers, the Chicago format is also equally important. The Turabian version modified for the student makes it more common among young scholars. Therefore, regardless of the subject of the essay, whether it is narrative, argumentative, or any other academic essay, the format can come in handy. Although it might not look acceptable for essays that are below 1000 words or equivalent to 500 words, for example, college, application, and admission essay, some of its guidelines will be useful. Therefore, instead of wasting time going through the bulky page of the Chicago style manual, you can do well to master it from this article and make things easier for yourself.

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