One of our client journals uses the Chicago Style Manual author-date system for citation and documentation. Authors routinely ignore this instruction, or, because they’re familiar with APA style, which is a different author-date system, they become confused and stumble around. Others imagine they can adapt MLA style, a fancy that leads them to create grotesque chimeras.
So, in an effort to cut the amount of ditzy copy-editing we have to do — and also to give our faculty editors solid grounds to return an article with nonstandard documentation and demand that the author get it right — we created a short guide to highlight the main differences among these three major citation systems.
If you are ever asked to use Chicago author-date style, the 16th edition provides a description in chapter 15. If you’re unfamiliar with Chicago style, you’ll also need to refer to chapter 14 to view the standard format for reference list entries.
The Chicago Manual is available online. It has a paywall (the amount is nominal, and sometimes you can persuade your department to pay for it), but it’s also possible to sign up for a free trial. Chicago is the standard of the book publishing industry, and so if you are working on a monograph, writing a textbook, or compiling an anthology, purchasing the hard-copy version or subscribing to the website is well worth the investment.
Chicago’s author-date in-text citation looks vaguely similar to APA’s:
(Boxankle 2014, 448)
Notice that APA style is different in that it places a comma after the author and uses the abbreviation p. before the page number. MLA does not use the p abbreviation; note that MLA does not use author-date citation at all:
APA: (Boxankle, 2014, p. 448)
MLA: (Boxankle 448).
Unlike APA, the in-text citation does not automatically go after mention of the source in the narrative; instead, placement resembles MLA’s style in that it goes at the end of the quotation, paraphrase, or summary. Note that Chicago places a comma after the date, while MLA does not enter a date:
Chicago style: Boxankle describes a late twentieth-century visit to the rings of Saturn (2014, 31-65).
APA style: Boxankle (2014, pp. 31-65) describes a late twentieth-century visit to the rings of Saturn.
MLA style: Boxankle describes a late twentieth-century visit to the rings of Saturn (31-65).
Chicago titles each article’s bibliography (list of references) References, not Works Cited.
Like the in-text citations, references in the Chicago author-date system look superficially similar to APA references, but there are important differences. Here are some highlights:
Chicago and MLA spell out authors’ names whereas APA does not:
Chicago and MLA: Boxankle, Oliver Q.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q.
Chicago does not place the year of publication in parentheses:
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q. 2013. Worlds without End. New York: Oxford University Press.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. (2013). Worlds without end. New York: Oxford University Press.
MLA: Not applicable. MLA does not use author-date format.
Chicago DOES use caps and lower case for all titles, including subtitles, and Chicago DOES place titles of short works, such as articles, in quotation marks. APA does neither, except insofar as journal titles are set in caps and lower-case:
Chicago and MLA article title: “A Visit to Saturn’s Rings.”
APA article title: A visit to Saturn’s rings
Chicago and MLA book title: Ten Amazing Voyages of the Twentieth Century
APA book title: Ten amazing voyages of the twentieth century
Chicago and MLA journal title: Archives of Intellectual Exploration
APA journal title: Archives of Intellectual Exploration
Chicago does NOT italicize the volume of a journal, whereas APA does. Also, APA places a comma between the journal title and the volume and number; Chicago does not. Chicago places a colon after the volume and number; APA uses a comma. APA does not italicize the volume number and separates volume and number with a period:
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q. 2013. “A Visit to Saturn’s Rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration 4(2): 331-49.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. (2013). “A visit to Saturn’s rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration, 4(2), 331-49.
MLA: Boxankle, Oliver Q. “A Visit to Saturn’s Rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration 4.2 (2013): 331-49.
For references with more than one author, Chicago lists only the first author’s in name last-name-first order; all the others are in normal order. APA lists all authors last-name-first, and APA uses an ampersand (&) instead of the word “and.” MLA is similar to Chicago.
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q., and Harvey Wallbanger. 2018. “Onward to Pluto”…
APA: Boxankle, O. Q., & Wallbanger, H. (2018). “Onward to Pluto”…
MLA: Not applicable; MLA does not use author-date style.
In references Chicago lets you use et. al. after four authors; APA wants you to list a maximum of seven authors. APA rules for multiple authors in citations and references are extremely complicated; see the APA manual, 6th edition, 6.15, 6.27, et passim, and chapter 7, ex. 2. MLA allows et al. for more than three authors but in that case has only the first author listed in the Works Cited. Remember, however, that MLA does not use author-date style!
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q., Harvey Wallbanger, Jane Doe, Rusty Knale, et al.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q., Wallbanger, H., Doe, J. B., Knale, R., Plath, S. T., Hemingway, E., . . . Oates, J. C. (2014).
MLA: Boxankle, Oliver Q., et al.
Chicago’s standard author-date reference list set-up for a book (no editor, no translater) follows standard Chicago style except that it moves the date from the end of the reference to a place directly after the author’s name. APA is similar, except that APA abbreviates first and middle names, places the date in parentheses after the author’s name, and uses the down style (sentence style) for book titles:
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q. 1997. My Life as an Interstellar Explorer. New York: Random House.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. (1997). My life as an interstellar explorer. New York: Random House.
MLA: not applicable; MLA does not use author-date format.
Chicago uses “edited by” to indicate the editor of an edited book; APA and MLA styles are significantly different:
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q. 2005. “Around the Moon in Eighty Hours.” In Pathways of the Astronauts, edited by Harvey Wallbanger, 308-11. New York: Vintage.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. (2005). Around the moon in eighty hours. In H. Wallbanger (Ed.), Pathways of the astronauts (pp. 308-311). New York: Vintage.
MLA: Boxankle, Oliver Q. “Around the Moon in Eighty Hours.” Pathways of the Astronauts. Ed. Harvey Wallbanger. 308-11. New York, 2005: Vintage.
Chicago does not favor elaborate references to electronic sources; a URL or (better, if available) a DOI will suffice. Chicago and APA no longer require an access date. MLA still requests an access date. APA inserts “retrieved from” before the URL; MLA inserts the access date (only) before the URL:
Chicago: Boxankle, Oliver Q. 2013. “A Visit to Saturn’s Rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration 4(2): 331-49. http://AIE.com/boxankle/visit/html.
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. 2013. “A visit to Saturn’s rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration, 4(2), 331-49. doi 12.123456789
APA: Boxankle, O. Q. 2013. “A visit to Saturn’s rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration, 4(2), 331-49. http://aie.org/boxankle/visit.html/
MLA: Boxankle, Oliver Q. “A Visit to Saturn’s Rings.” Archives of Intellectual Exploration, 4.2 (2013): 331-49.1 June 2015. Retrieved from http://aie.org/boxankle/visit.html/
This list of tips is a very brief thumbnail sketch of some of the major differences between Chicago author-date, APA, and MLA styles. It doesn’t cover all the types of sources that you, as an advanced researcher, are likely to encounter. For all the details, be sure to consult The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.
The edition number is important: please do not use Chicago 15 or Chicago 14.
Feeling like you need an editor? You do. Even if you write novels and nonfiction free of scholarly apparatus, Chicago style is the standard for trade book publishing. If you don’t know how to use it, you’ll need someone to regularize your text, at the very least. A good editor can also advise on many writing and organizational issues. Get in touch through the contact form at The Copyeditor’s Desk.