Dr Abel Scribe PhD

A Manual for Writers

The Turabian Manual got its start as a guide to students at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. They needed an interpretation of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) to apply to term papers, theses, and dissertation. The focus of the Chicago Manual is on publishing books. This dual strategy, the CMS for books and the Turabian Manual for students, continues to this day. The latest edition of the CMS is the gold standard of well a style guide can be written, the Turabian Manual is something of a nightmare, or more charitably, a bad dream. Parts of the book address one group of students, other parts another group. It is a patchwork creation.

Turabian Manual for Writers of Research Papers (7th ed, 2007)


This new edition of the venerable Turabian manual is no more than a rough draft. It is perhaps a second draft, but a work in process nonetheless. The need for a deft ediorial hand to finish work is soon evident to any knowledgable reader. First, the same material on tables and figures is covered in two separate sections. This material could have been consolidated in one place. Second, essential information on references is overly wordy and convoluted, requiring five chapters to present the same material that needed just one in the previous edition. Third, there is a serious lack of focus. The promise of the first section is not fullfilled in the second. The focus shifts. Were this a thesis or a dissertation, it would not get past the student's advisor to the full committee. Were this an article submitted for publication, the editor would return it for needed revisions. Were this a patchwork body of Dr. Frankenstein's creation, it would still need an energizing spark to bring it to life.

There are two distinct sections to this text. The first is an elementary, but polished, introduction to crafting research papers by eminent and accomplished scholars. The second seeks to present "Chicago style for researchers and students," which is the subtitle of the volume. The transition between the two is not smooth. While the first section is for beginners, the second is for advanced students, presenting numerous graphics to help format a dissertation, but just a single graphic for class papers, a title page. Thus, the neophyte is given the task of inferring from the format of a dissertation how a class paper should look. This seems backwards. Shouldn't the task of translating from one format to another be given to the more advanced student? Better yet, why not present both formats? Students writing a dissertation are well beyond needing the elementary guide to doing research found in the first half of the book. The focus shifts from beginner to near-professional with no closure for the beginner and no preparation for the grad student. Could this be the patchwork creation of a mad (but competent) scientist?

An appendix is the literary equivalent of an afterthought, and that is where the page format graphics have been relegated. Apparently the editors of this venerable "manual of writers of research papers," considers the format of words, sentences, tables, figures, paragraphs, and quotations more important than their presentation on the page. Perhaps, "A Manual for Writers of Research Text" would be a more honest title. The subtitle, not the title, appears to be the ordering principle of the second half of the book--Chicago Style for for Researchers and Students. The emphasis is on the style and not the final product, the research paper. This may be a fine point to some, but both the APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association) place page formats in the body of their style manuals.

The previous edition presented the three Chicago reference formats--footnote/endnote, bibliography, and reference list--side by side in a single chapter. This proved so effective that the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style elected to do the same thing. But this edition of the Turabian manual has expanded this one chapter into five. The question is why, for whom? Shouldn't students be treated to the simpler presentation? William of Occcam is the author of a famous priciple in philosophy know as Occam's Razor. He argued that when given a choice of alternative explanations the simplest will generally prove the most reliable. About 600 years later, William Strunk, Jr., advised his students to "omit needless words," and we might add, needless chapters.

Given these observations, how would you grade a text with these problems? To me, it reads like a rough draft in need of additional work. I would not want to present a text in this condition to a dissertation committee. And by that standard, a revised edition is called for. With both the Turabian manual and Chicago manual on my bookshelf, I invariably go to the Chicago manual when I have a question. Ironically, with the previous editions of both texts it was the other way around. The new Turabian manual does manage to cover the essential features of Chicago style, and though it is a great buy at amazon prices, it is no bargain. It is a disjointed patchwork offensive to a disciplined mind. Dr. Frankenstein, would you care to hazard a second opinion?

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Official Websites:   AMA Style (Oxford UP)   APA Style Site   Chicago Manual of Style   MLA Handbook