Tag Archives: chicago manual of style

Don’t Use This Word Like That (Word Usage, 1 of 3)

She shared the example of issue versus problem. These two words are used almost interchangeably these days, but they don’t really mean the same thing. According to Merriam Webster, an issue is “a vital or unsettled matter” and “is in dispute between two or more parties.”

A problem, according to MW, is “a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation” or is a “difficulty in understanding or accepting.”

MW also says an issue can be a problem, but based on the definitions, a problem is not an issue. To sum things up, issues have sides to be debated. Problems are difficulties to be figured out.

So why do people use issue when what they really mean is problem? This led me down an intersting research path about word usage that I’m going to write about in a three-part series.

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Style Guides for Writers

We’re not talking fashion magazines, folks. In the book world, a style guide is the rulemaker you’re choosing to follow. And for writers in the US, the most accepted style guide for books is Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

CMOS covers how to treat numbers, where to insert commas, when to hyphenate, and so much more. It’s currently in its seventeenth edition. The online version is my favorite way to work with it, which I do almost every day, because it’s so easy to search. I also appreciate the forum and Q&A included in the online version. For $35 a year, it’s well worth the subscription.

Chicago’s got one issue though. It was originally written for nonfiction books. And that certainly shows up sometimes. So if you’re writing fiction, there may be instances where Chicago is “silent,” meaning you will have to figure out what you want to do yourself.

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