How to Make Your Editor Happy: Chicago Style Tips

Tips for novel writers who choose to use Chicago Style that will make an editor happy!

by Megan Fleming

These tips are for all the fiction writers out there. As Lead Editor at Victory Vision Publishing, I come across a variety of writing levels—some people are brand new to the novel-writing process, and others are seasoned authors. Regardless of the level of experience, I run into common errors that indicate to me that many writers either don’t know how to write in Chicago Style, or know, but don’t bother to use it. 

What is Chicago Style? The University of Chicago says:

The Chicago Manual of Style is an American English style and usage guide published continuously by the University of Chicago Press since 1906. Today, it is used widely in many academic disciplines and is considered the standard for US style in book publishing.

Save On Editing 

Why should you bother adhering to Chicago Style as you edit your drafts? Because it will save your editor time, and that means saving you money. Once you do your own editing per your chosen writing style and get your draft in the most polished form you can, you will still need another set of eyes on it: a great editor who knows all the styles. 

Of course, you may want to hire a copyeditor to give developmental suggestions (such as ordering of paragraphs, expanding ideas, or cutting whole sections), and that costs more than a proofread. But you can still make your editor happy by eliminating most of the common proofreading errors before you submit it for any type of editing. 

10 Writing Tips for Chicago Style

Here’s a list of a few common Chicago Style standards to look out for:

  1. Use the Oxford comma. 

Example: I like bananas, apples, and oranges. 

NOT: I like bananas, apples and oranges.

  1. Always place closing quotations on the outside of punctuation. 

Example: My mom would always make a dish we called, “slop.” 

NOT: . . . a dish we called, “slop”.

  1. When writing dialog, a new speaker always starts a new paragraph.


“Where are you going to get enough money for that?” he demanded.

“Well, I thought you might consider—” 

“Well you thought wrong! Now get out!”

Notice that there is no need to indicate that the second line is a different speaker than the first, since it is its own paragraph.

NOT: “Where are you going to get enough money for that?” he demanded. “Well, I thought you might consider—” she started. “Well you thought wrong! Now get out!”

There are exceptions to this, depending if the dialog is really short and makes more sense in its own paragraph, like the above example; but your editor will help make that call. 

  1. For ellipses, place a space between each period: 

Example: He continued, “. . . so, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong . . .”

NOT: (AP style) He continued, “ … so, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong  … ”

NOR: (lazy typing) He continued, “, when I saw you open the door, I just knew something was wrong…”

Tip for Microsoft Word users (from MLA Style Center):

Note, however, that if you use Microsoft Word’s ellipsis character, the periods will not be spaced, and if you try to insert three periods with spaces, Word will change them to an ellipsis without spaces. To turn off that feature, go to File, then Options, then Proofing, then click the AutoCorrect Options button. Select the AutoCorrect tab. You can then uncheck the “Replace text as you type” box, or simply delete the ellipsis character from the list. 

  1. See that dash in tip #3? That’s an em dash, and here’s how to create one on a Mac (for convoluted options for PC users, here’s a guide, and good luck (this link also explains the difference between an em an and en dash):

Use "option-shift" and then the dash key to make a proper em dash between lapsed dialog or a trailed thought—like this—instead of like - this - which is simpler, but not Chicago style. Also, avoid excessive use of em dashes and ellipses by varying the length of your sentences for more dynamic reading. 

  1. Time: Lowercase with periods: 10 a.m., 10 p.m. 

Numbers: generally written out for numbers one to one hundred (see Chicago Style Manual for a more extensive number guide)

  1. Dates: omit “th” “nd” and “st” in dates: May 5, 2023; Fourth of July

  1. Use italics instead of CAPS for emphasis, and rarely use bold, unless there is a very good reason; also, when a foreign word is used, like, mon frère. 

  1. Paragraphs that begin a chapter don't get indented; all other paragraphs do. 

  1. Sentences are best spaced at "1.5" for drafts. Do not add a line space when beginning a new paragraph, unless it begins a new section; it is then treated like a new chapter by giving it a line space and no indent. Your formatter can place a section break glyph there in the final format, and change the sentence spacing, font, and font size to suit you if you are self-publishing. If a traditional publisher is formatting your manuscript, you may have to agree to their defaults. 

Thank you for humoring this editor with the geek-out on Chicago Style! Happy writing! And remember—first drafts can have no style at all. Just get the content out, and worry about the grammar, style, and spelling later. Seriously—style is the icing on the cake; what you want to say needs to be worthy of that icing, without being inhibited in the initial process!

Yum . . . now I want to go find a piece of cake. 

Ready for an Editor?

Ready to have a seasoned editor look over your manuscript? Send a sample of the beginning, middle, and end (about 4500 words) to for a free evaluation and quote on how much editing will cost you. 

Here are some more resources for you to consider, from a U.K. publisher:

  • Article on use of “as;” great tips to be aware of

  • How to include accents in your dialog so you won’t drive your editor crazy

Megan Fleming is Lead Editor at Victory Vision Publishing. She has a Painting degree with a TESOL minor, and has taught Art and English to both students and adults. Her love of literature and clean copy merged when she began editing full time in 2020, and she has since been able to use her experience in MLA, Chicago, AP, and APA styles. Megan and her husband, Adam Fleming, live in a small Midwest town and have four children. Megan enjoys making her own art, gardening, pursuing a master’s degree, and reading fiction in between the cracks. 

Interested in getting to the next step? Click here for a free discovery meeting with Adam.

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