Sunday, November 09, 2003

Is this lame or what? My mind is in desperate need of freeing, so while I'm out finding a mental purgative, please read my recent review of an important editorial tool, the Chicago Manual of Style. I wrote this review for Active Voice, the newsletter of the Editors' Association of Canada. I will update with a more personal entry soon, I promise! — L

The fifteenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style has finally arrived. It’s been only a decade since the publication of Chicago 14, but editorial processes have changed so dramatically in the interval that the need for a new edition has been keenly felt. With roughly fifty more pages than its predecessor, Chicago 15 answers many editors’ hopes and pleas.

Updates to accommodate electronic publishing and desktop technology were widely expected, and the editors delivered. Chicago 15 provides extensive detail on how to cite electronic materials and includes a succinct overview of considerations for citation, a list that should prove valuable to editors and authors alike. It also acknowledges emerging technologies such as digital bluelines and electronic books, and discusses their specific handling. Another major addition is extensive coverage of journal preparation. Rather than being slushed into book production, journals are treated as a distinct form with particular needs and timelines.

The other big feature of Chicago 15 is the chapter on grammar and usage, and several early reviews have focussed on it. I must confess that I, as a grammar instructor, was drawn immediately to these pages to see how didactic Chicago might have become.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a thorough yet accessible and largely descriptive discussion of American grammar. No Miss Thistlebottom here: the chapter is solid but thoughtful. Take for example its ruling on the split infinitive: "it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometimes justifiably separate the to from the principal verb"—a clear statement that is neither permissive nor absolute.

The usage section is similarly thoughtful. Its "glossary of troublesome expressions" breaks out commonly confused words and phrases, such as adverse and averse, convince and persuade, but also extends to some subtler distinctions, such as obtuse versus abstruse or mistreatment versus maltreatment. It also gestures briefly to considerations of bias-free language and includes a helpful list of prepositional idioms.

One change that does not entirely satisfy me is the relegation of production matters to an appendix (albeit a lengthy one). Here too is the new home of the former glossary of technical terms, now reduced to a list of key production terms. Certainly the continuing advance of technology makes the detailed discussion of prepress issues difficult, and in this age of specialization, production editors without design training are increasingly rare. But surely editors—especially new editors—need more than a superficial understanding of the processes that turn an edited manuscript into a bound publication. Perhaps by the time the next edition of Chicago is published, technology will have stabilized sufficiently to permit more leisurely consideration of production and printing issues.

Numerous strengths compensate for any perceived weaknesses, however. The table of contents has been expanded for clarity, and the bibliography has been reorganized and updated. All numbered paragraphs have descriptive headings to allow editors to evaluate content quickly. And the style section—the core of Chicago—remains largely unchanged, though expanded. Margaret D.F. Mahan notes in her preface, "As for the rules that many of us either know or know how to look up, we have changed only a few, and mainly those that have never caught on." This is probably one of the greatest achievements of Chicago 15: that it has provided guidelines for tackling the new and unfamiliar without removing what is familiar and valuable.

One other subtle, yet entirely effective, change deserves mention. The moderate use of a second colour throughout gives the book a softer, more accessible feel, rendering it authoritative, not authoritarian. In short, Chicago Manual of Style remains the essential guide to editing and publishing. Plan to add the new edition to your editorial bookshelf soon.

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