I love the Chicago Manual of Style notes-bibliography referencing style, although I treat it as the lesser of many evils. For instance, this has always bugged me: why is it that in footnotes, the page numbers of books are preceded by a comma:

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York: Penguin, 2006), 99–100.

But the page numbers of journal articles are preceded by a colon?

Joshua I. Weinstein, “The Market in Plato’s Republic,” Classical Philology 104 (2009): 440.

I like the colon, since it clearly shows that the next section of the reference is from within the reference (i.e. it is a specific page number). But I'm going to get raised eyebrows if I use colons everywhere in my footnotes. So why the discrepancy in the first place?

  • Well, that is not a normal citation style in my general field (physics/materials/engineering), so it is really hard to say. Different fields have developed different styles (citation and otherwise) over the past several centuries. Perhaps English Language SE might be better? Or History of Science and Math?
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 23:01
  • I would have to go back to earlier versions of MLA, but my guess is that the answer is that it has always been that way.
    – StrongBad
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 0:45
  • 1
    Doesn't that help differentiating articles from books?
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 17:40
  • @ÉbeIsaac That's a really, really good point which I hadn't considered before. Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 18:30

1 Answer 1


The difference in the format helps differentiate articles from books.

Each citation format (Chicago, MLA, IEEE, APA, etc.) have their own way of differentiating articles and journals. This is just the way it is done in the Chicago style.

  • 3
    If the reader doesn't make the distinction based upon all the other differences (formatting of journal vs. book title; separate naming of publisher), I doubt they do based upon an obscure one-symbol-code in the middle of the text. Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 5:31
  • @O.R.Mapper: The additional symbol is part of the formatting differences itself (although the rationale behind every detail is not so clear even after pedaling through the whole home cite)
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Sep 6, 2016 at 5:54

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