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Chicago (CMS) Citation Style

What is Chicago format?

Chicago is one style for formatting your academic essays and making references. It is somewhat less common than other styles such as APA or MLA style. The style is known as Chicago because the style guide is published by the University of Chicago Press.

Chicago style is primarily used within the discipline of history. Related disciplines such as religious studies or political theory may also utilize the style, along with other areas of the humanities. Chicago style is rarely used outside of the humanities. It is possible, though, that there may be exceptions for departments or publications that are specifically associated with the University of Chicago.

The first version of the Chicago Manual of Style was published in the year 1906. This manual has historical relevance because it was one of the first modern efforts at developing and implementing a comprehensive style guide. It set the precedent for the development of other styles such as MLA and APA style.

The Chicago Manual of Style is now on its 17th edition. This is the edition that will be used for the present guide provided by Ultius.

Quick additional note

A related style, called Turabian, is virtually identical to Chicago style. This means that if you need papers cited in Turabian style, this guide can help you with that as well.

Table of contents

This guide will go through the different aspects of Chicago style and provide descriptions of all the details. The guide will discuss each of these aspects:

After reading this guide, you should feel much more confident in your ability to effectively follow and utilize CMS style.

Basic CMS format requirements

Chicago style shares some basic formatting features with other styles. We will list those features here, though, just in case you are not already doing these things.

Basic CMS rules
CMS papers include a title page, bibliography, Arabic numerals, and in-text citations.

Page formatting

Chicago style calls for 1" margins on all sides of pages set with the standard American letter margins of 8.5" by 11".

You may need to manually change the margins because not all word processors set the margins at 1" on all sides on new documents. Notably, Microsoft Word's default is 1.25" on the right and left margins. You will need to change this in order to make your essay congruent with Chicago style.


Chicago style mainly stipulates that your font has to be easy to read. This means that technically you have a couple options. However, it is recommended that you go with 12 point Times New Roman font. This is standard for almost all college papers. If your professor specifically asks for a different kind of font, then those instructions take precedence over this general rule.

Line spacing in CMS

The text of your Chicago-style essay should be double spaced. There is some single spacing involved on the bibliography page, which will be discussed further below.

Text alignment

The text of your essay should be aligned flush left. This means that the right edge of your page will be ragged, meaning that there will be more space at the end of some lines than others.

The basics discussed above are included not only in Chicago style but also in most other styles as well. Let us now move to a consideration of some of the more specific features of Chicago style.


Chicago style does not require anything in the way of a heading. However, pages should be numbered, with the first numbered page being the first page of text. The title page is not numbered. The first page of the body of your essay should numbered 1. The numbers go in the upper-right corner of the page in the header.

Title page

The title page contains four lines. About a quarter of the way down the page, you should write the title of your essay. The title is in headline style, with the first letters of all major words capitalized.

Then, about another quarter page down from the title line, you should include the following three lines in this order:

  • Full name
  • Class number and name
  • Date

This could look like this:

Sample CMS title page
The title appears in all caps, centered, and one-third of the way down the page. The author's first and last names are centered and about two-thirds down the page. Directly underneath the author, the class information appears and is centered along with the date.

The lines are double spaced, and all four lines of the title page should be center-aligned.

Headings in CMS

When writing a Chicago style essay, you will use headings in order to break down your essay into multiple sections. This is especially important if you are working on a longer assignment. For example, an 8-page essay without headings would become confusing for both the writer and the reader.

The Chicago Manual of Style delineates multiple levels of headings. A level refers to a subheading below the first heading, you will probably not go past three levels in the essays you write for your classes.

Chicago style (CMS) headings
Headings in CMS follow a very specific format
Level Format
1 Centered, Boldface or Italic Type, Headline Style Capitalization
2 Centered, Regular, Headline Style Capitalization
3 Flush Left, Boldface or Italic Type, Headline Style Capitalization
4 Flush left, Roman type, sentence-style capitalization
5 Run in at beginning of paragraph (no blank line after), boldface or italic type, sentence-style capitalization, terminal period.

You could also include numbering on longer essays. For example, the first heading would be 1, the second subheading under that heading would be 1.2, and so on. This can help you make sure that your essay has a good organizational structure.


Footnotes play a uniquely important role in Chicago citation style. There are no in-text citations in Chicago style. Rather, footnotes take their place. Every citation in your Chicago style essay must include a footnote. Footnotes are used not to insert additional information, but rather for the primary citation itself.

This section of the present guide will go over how footnotes should be formatted for different kinds of sources. It will also include other information about the use of footnotes.

Standard format

The basic format of a Chicago style footnote can be seen most clearly by considering sources that have just one author. Here are the guidelines for three common types of sources: book, journal article, and website.

CMS Footnotes
Footnotes are generally found at the bottom of a CMS paper, and numbered using superscript.

Also, this is for the first time you cite a given source within your essay. The rules are different for subsequent citations, and they will be discussed a little later in this guide.

Source type Footnote template Footnote example
book Firstname Lastname, Title of Book (Publishing City: Publisher, Year), page #. Dante Frizzoli, Virgil and the Founding of Rome (New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004), 11.
journal article Firstname Lastname, "Title of Article," Name of Journal volume #, no. issue # (Year): page number. John Smith, "On Gender Inequality," Journal of Justice 16, no. 4 (2004): 60.
website Firstname Lastname, "Title of Article," Name of Website, accessed Date, URL. Timothy O'Connor, "Free Will," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed February 25, 2019, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/.

Variations on authors

So far, we have discussed the basic citation style for various types of sources. Now we can turn our attention to what to do when there is more than one author.

Multiple authors

When there is more than one author, you just list them in the order that their names are listed in the source you are citing. For example, a footnote for a book with two authors would look like this:

Dante Frizzoli and John Smith, Virgil and the Founding of Rome (New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004), 62.

If there are three authors, then you should separate the authors' names by commas.

Dante Frizzoli, John Smith, and Edgar Hoover, Virgil and the Founding of Rome (New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004), 62.

Sources with more authors than that is quite uncommon when using Chicago style. This is because Chicago style is mostly used for books and scholarly articles rather than scientific research studies. However, if there are more than three authors, you can use "et al." after the first author. Here is an example:

Dante Frizzoli et al., Virgil and the Founding of Rome (New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004), 62.

The same rules apply for all types of sources, whether books, journal articles, or websites.

Unknown author

If there is no known author for a source, then you should omit the author and start your footnote with the title of the work. It would look like this:

Virgil and the Founding of Rome (Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004), 62.

If you are citing a website, then you can sometimes also use the name of the website as the author. This may be especially appropriate if the website is reflective of a whole organization.

Subsequent citations of the same source

In Chicago style, you only include the full citation for a source in the footnote when you cite that source for the first time. When you cite it again in the same essay, you don't include the full citation. Instead, you just include the author and page number. Like this:

Frizzoli, 62.

This makes all subsequent citations of the same source very simple.

The case of the mysterious ibid

Chicago style also makes use of the word "Ibid.", which means "in the same source". You use this if your current footnote refers to the same source as the immediately preceding footnote. If it's the same source but a different page number, then the two footnotes in a row should look like this:

Frizzoli, 62.

Ibid., 65.

If the citation is from the same page, then you can just write "Ibid." and not include any further information in the footnote. Again, this can make life in Chicago style rather easy.


The guidelines for spacing in footnotes are somewhat unclear. There are a few different possibilities:

  • Double-space all footnotes
  • Single-space all footnotes
  • Single-space footnotes, but include a space between different footnotes
  • Indent the first line of each footnotes
  • Don't include indentations

Ultimately, Chicago style suggests that you defer to your professor's instructions. The most common style seems to be single-spaced footnotes with a space between each footnote, no indentation. Again, though, this can vary a lot from professor to professor. You should follow the specific instructions that you are given in your course.


If you know how to do a footnote in Chicago style, then you also know how to do a bibliography entry. This is because all the information is the same, with just some slight modifications in order and punctuation.

Page format

The bibliography page should be a new page at the end of your essay. It should be single spaced, unlike the rest of your essay. At the top of the page, you should write the word Bibliography and center-align the word. Then, skip a line and begin your first entry.

There should be a space between each entry. The second line of an entry (if there is one) should be indented, but the first line should not.

Also, if you cite several sources by the same author, then you don't list the author's name every time. After the first entry, you replace the name with three em-dashes: "———".

Entry format

Source type Footnote template Footnote example
book Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Publishing City: Publisher Year. Frizzoli, Dante. Virgil and the Founding of Rome. New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004.
journal article Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Article." Name of Journal volume #, no. issue # (Year): pages of article. Smith, John. "On Gender Inequality." Journal of Justice 16, no. 4 (2004): 60-79.
website Lastname, Firstname. "Title of Article," Name of Website. Accessed Date. URL. O'Connor, Timothy. "Free Will," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed February 25, 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/.

As you can see, the bibliography entries are very similar to the footnotes. There are just two main differences. One, the last name of the author goes first. And two, the information is "choppier," with a lot of the commas from footnotes being replaced by periods.

Multiple authors

If a source has more than one author, then the last name should go first only for the first author. Here is an example:

Frizzoli, Dante, and John Smith. Virgil and the Founding of Rome. New York: Dixon Publishing Corp, 2004.

If you need more examples, you can buy CMS paper samples from Ultius.

CMS Samples, templates, and downloads for you to use

CMS (16th ed.)Chicago Manual of Style
Type, name, and descriptionModified
Manuals and guides
CMS Mini GuideMicrosoft PowerPoint · © Ultius, Inc.
Mar. 25, 2019
CMS template (blank)Microsoft Word · © Ultius, Inc.
Jan. 11, 2019
CMS Sample Paper (#1)PDF · © Ultius, Inc.
Jan. 11, 2019
CMS Guided SamplePDF · © Ultius, Inc.
Jan. 11, 2019

* External works are subject to copyright by the respective owners. Please use these resources at your own risk.

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This post was written by Ultius.

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