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Everything You Need To Know About Turabian Style


There are a plethora of different style guides out there, and they each dictate different—yet very specific—rules about how to format your papers and articles, what tense to use, and how to cite your sources within the text and in your references section. You might already be familiar with APA, MLA, AP, and Chicago Style, but have you ever heard of Turabian Style? If not, don't fret. Keep reading for a summary of the most important aspects of Turabian Style.

What is Turabian Style?

Kate Turabian was the dissertation secretary at the University of Chicago from 1930 to 1958, and she created the Turabian Style Guide for students and researchers who were composing studies that they did not intend to publish. Turabian recognized that since the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) was designed for graduate students, professional scholars, and publishers, many of its lengthy and detailed guidelines were applicable only to papers that writers intended to publish. Turabian decided to create a simplified version of the CMOS for students who were writing research papers, theses, and dissertations that they did not intend to publish. In 1937, the University of Chicago Press published Turabian's custom style guide, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, and recognized it as an official version of Chicago Style. To ensure that Turabian Style stays relevant as language, culture, and research methods evolve over time, University of Chicago Press editors and editorial staff update Turabian's guide and add citation information for electronic sources and other source materials that didn't exist during Turabian's lifetime. The ninth edition of A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations was published in 2018 and is the most recent edition.

In 1964, Turabian published an additional style guide for beginning writers, the Student's Guide to Writing College Papers, with high school and undergraduate students in mind. To ensure that the Student's Guide to Writing College Papers continues to provide students with reliable guidelines as technology and language continue advancing, editors with the University of Chicago Press issue updated editions as needed. The updated fifth edition of the Student's Guide to Writing College Papers was published in 2019 and serves as an ideal introductory style guide for anyone who is new to including detailed citations when writing research papers.

Is Turabian the same as Chicago Style?

They are not the same, but Turabian is derived from Chicago Style. Since Turabian adapted the CMOS and created a simplified version for students, Turabian's style books are considered the Chicago Manual of Style for students. Both of Turabian's style guides—A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations and the Student's Guide to Writing College Papers—comply with the guidelines outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style, so if you follow guidelines specified in either of Turabian's style books, you should be adhering to Chicago Style as well. Think of it this way: If Chicago Style is your grandma's rich, decadent chocolate cake, A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is the reduced sugar version Grandma adapted when your aunt developed diabetes, and the Student's Guide to Writing College Papers is the reduced sugar, gluten-free version that Grandma created after one of her grandkids developed a gluten allergy. All three are versions of Grandma's famous chocolate cake, but the contents of the second two have been revised and tailored to suit a particular group of people.

General style guidelines

Don't worry, the Turabian style guide isn't trying to quash your individuality and make your writing sound just like everyone else's. Turabian style actually includes useful writing guidelines that will improve almost any paper's readability. Below, I've highlighted some of the most important (and most beneficial) general guidelines in Turabian style:

  • Use active voice whenever possible.
  • Avoid writing in passive voice.
  • Write in third person (he, she, it, they).
  • Avoid using first person (I, me, we) and second person (you) unless an advisor specifically requests first or second person.
  • Use present tense when quoting authors or referencing their written work.
  • Use simple past tense when discussing historical works.
  • Capitalize book, movie, and periodical titles in headline style (i.e., capitalize the first word in the title and subtitle and capitalize significant words and words that are four letters or longer.
  • Italicize shorter works, such as book chapters and periodical titles.
  • Use double quotation marks when referencing articles in periodicals or chapters in books.
  • Maintain consistency throughout the paper in tone, formatting, headings, and subheadings.

General formatting guidelines

Like most other style guides, Turabian provides specific formatting guidelines for page margins, paragraph spacing, font size, and other organizational aspects of your paper. Such formatting guidelines aren't intended to feel restrictive; adhering to these guidelines will give your paper a clean, professional look so formatting issues don't detract from your research findings. For any formatting issues that are not addressed in the Turabian style guide, authors should make individual decisions and apply all formatting consistently throughout the paper. The following five formatting rules should be used in all Turabian papers:

  • Use double-spaced paragraph style for the main text in the paper, with the following exceptions: Use single-space paragraph style for table titles, figure captions, and block quotations (quotes that contain more than 100 words). Additionally, use single-space paragraph style for each note and bibliography/reference list entry, but insert a blank line between entries.
  • Place page numbers in the upper right margin, and use Arabic numerals starting with 1.
  • Keep page margins consistent throughout the paper.
  • Use a 12-point readable font such as Times New Roman.
  • Indent each new paragraph 1/2-inch from the left margin.

In-text citations

Like the Chicago Manual of Style but unlike most other style guidelines, Turabian offers two options for citing in-text sources: notes and bibliography style or author-date style.

According to the Turabian style guide, the humanities (literature, history, and the arts) typically use notes and bibliography style while the physical, natural, and social sciences usually use author-date style. At first glance it might seem as if each researcher can simply select his or her preferred style, but this is not the case. Check with your instructor before you commit to either notes and bibliography style or author-date style. If your instructor is not available for comment, consult the CMOS FAQ page for students.

Notes and bibliography style

The notes and bibliography style uses superscript numerals in the main text that correspond to information provided in footnotes or endnotes. Place superscript numbers at the end of a complete sentence after the punctuation mark, like so.

When using notes and bibliography style, authors will also include a complete list of sources in a separate bibliography. The notes and bibliography style is ideal for papers that contain a significant number of sources.

A note about notes

Your paper will only have a Notes section if you are using endnotes and bibliography style. If you are using footnotes and bibliography style, you will insert all of your information in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. Regardless of whether you're using endnotes or footnotes, you will most likely include the following information in your notes:

  • Cite your references in your notes. The first time you cite a source, include the full citation in the corresponding note. For all citations after the first, use abbreviated citations.
  • Use notes to comment on sources or to add insight about information in the text. When a note contains both a citation and commentary, list citation information first.
  • Choose between two options for formatting your end note and footnote numbers: Use a standard numeral followed by a period or a superscript number without a period following it.
  • Cite specific page numbers in notes when quoting material or referencing a source's specific ideas. In your bibliography or references list, cite the entire page range.
  • List all authors in the first note if a source has up to three authors.
  • List the first author followed by et al. when citing sources with four or more authors.

Formatting notes

Turabian includes specific formatting guidelines for footnote and endnotes to ensure that you present citation and reference information in a consistent manner throughout your paper. You can consult the Turabian style guide for a comprehensive list of guidelines for formatting notes, but I've listed the most commonly used guidelines below:

  • Align footnote entries flush with the left margin.
  • Place the Notes page after the appendices and before the Bibliography if using endnotes instead of footnotes. Footnotes will appear at the bottom of the page with the referenced material.
  • Center the bolded title Notes at the top of the page.
  • Insert two blank lines between the Notes heading and your Chapter 1 notes.
  • Type and center Chapter 1 (assuming Chapter 1 contains your first citation). If your first citation is not in Chapter 1, type the appropriate chapter numeral in place of 1.
  • Add the chapter subheadings after the chapter numeral if your notes numbers restart at 1 at the beginning of each new chapter.
  • Use single spacing for each entry with a blank line separating entries.
  • Indent half an inch at the start of each entry.
  • Align any note's subsequent lines flush with the margin (i.e., not indented), just like you would do at the start of a paragraph.
  • Leave the right margin uneven; do not create a flush right margin.

Author-date style

Contrary to notes and bibliography style's numbered reference system, author-date style provides parenthetical in-text citations that contain the author's name and the publication year with no punctuation in between (Grant 2022). If readers want to find out more about a parenthetical citation, they can refer to the corresponding full citation in the references list at the end of the paper. Below, I've summarized the essentials of author-date style and covered some of the most common situations:

  • Citation Placement: Place parenthetical citations at the end of a sentence before the sentence's final punctuation (Grant 2022).
  • Direct Quote: When using a direct quote or when referring to specific ideas from a source, insert the page number(s) after the publication year in your parenthetical citation (Grant 2022, 123). Insert a comma after the publication year to separate it from the page numbers. Do not write page or "p." to clarify that these are page numbers—the comma after the year will convey this information for you.
  • Signal Phrases: If you state the author and year within the sentence when introducing a quote or other relevant information, you do not need to repeat the author's name and year in the parenthetical citation. Instead, insert just the page number(s) in parentheses at the end of the sentence.
  • Same Source for Multiple Sentences: When using the same source for multiple sentences or for an entire paragraph, cite the source only once at the end of the final sentence or the end of the paragraph. If you are using the same source for the following paragraph, cite it at the end of the second paragraph as well. When in doubt, remember that it is safer to include a citation; omitting a necessary citation might put you at risk for a plagiarism accusation, and no one wants to have to go through a plagiarism inquiry.
  • Same Source for Multiple Sentences but Different Page Numbers: When citing the same source but different page numbers for multiple sentences, insert the full parenthetical citation at the end of the first applicable sentence instead of the last (Smith 1980, 12). For each sentence after that first citation, add a parenthetical citation with only the pertinent page numbers to the end of the sentences (17). Readers will assume that the updated page numbers correspond with the most recently cited author (10).

Citing your sources

Whether you're using notes and bibliography style or author-date style, the only difference between your reference lists will be which word you type at the top of the first page of your references.

If you are using notes and bibliography style, type and center the bolded word Bibliography at the top of the first blank page after the end of your paper.

If you are using author-date style, type and center the bolded words Reference List at the top of the first blank page after the end of your paper.

Aside from this difference, everything else about your comprehensive cited sources will be the same whether you are using notes and bibliography style or author-date style. Let's go over some of the critical rules for your citations:

  • Insert two blank lines between your page heading (either Bibliography or Reference List) and your first entry.
  • Use single paragraph line spacing for each entry, with a half-inch hanging indent when an entry continues onto subsequent lines.
  • Insert a blank line between each entry.
  • Arrange your reference list in alphabetical order based on the first author's last name.
  • Include the first name of the first author for works with multiple authors, but include only last names for all subsequent authors.
  • Replace the author's name with three em dashes when citing multiple works by the same author. After the first entry by that author, all other entries will start with ––––––.
  • Include citations for sources that you consulted but did not specifically cite within the text.
  • Do not create a flush right margin; leave the right margins uneven.

Like its foundational style guide the CMOS, using Turabian style guide correctly will help you streamline your writing style so your words can truly shine. Turabian is a great entry style guide for high school and undergraduate students who aren't writing for publication yet but might be doing so in a few years. Adhering to the Turabian style guide will add credibility to your work while making your research papers easier to read and understand.

Header image by Iñaki del Olmo.

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