What is the Chicago Referencing Style?

Chicago style referencing is used by students, writers and researchers worldwide to acknowledge the use of other people’s words and ideas in their written work, thereby lending credibility to their statements and conclusions without committing plagiarism.

The Chicago Manual of Style (Sixteenth Edition) outlines two basic documentation systems:

  • Notes-Bibliography System (NB) is made up of footnotes or endnotes (or both), and a bibliography

  • Author-Date System consists of parenthetical author-date references and a corresponding reference list including full publication information

The style offers academic writers the choice between these two formats; choosing which system you are going to apply to your work will depend on your discipline and the type of sources you are referencing. If you are unsure which system you should be using, make sure you consult your tutor before you begin.

The notes and bibliography system is primarily used in the humanities - including literature, history, and the arts - because it is a flexible style that accommodates unusual source types and opens up space for commentary on the sources cited. A superscript number at the end of the sentence signals to the reader that a source has been used, and summary details of the source can be found using the numbered footnote at the bottom of the page. Full details of the source information can be located in the bibliography, which is presented at the end of the essay in alphabetical order by author. Read more about creating footnotes here.

Chicago style referencing also has an author-date variant, which is commonly used by those in the physical, natural, and social sciences. Sources are briefly cited in the text and enclosed within parentheses. Each parenthetical reference includes the author’s last name and date of publication, and is keyed to a corresponding reference in a complete list of references, where full bibliographic information is provided.

Whether you are using the notes and bibliography system or the author-date style in your work, RefME’s referencing tool will generate your citations in seconds. Simply log in to your account, or create one for free, and select ‘Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition (full-note bibliography)’ or ‘Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition (author-date)’.

RefME’s Chicago Citation Generator

Our mission at RefME is to educate students in the benefits of utilising multiple sources in their written work and the importance of accurately referencing all source material. This guide has been written to support students, writers and researchers by offering clear, well-considered advice on the usage of Chicago style referencing.

We understand that it is easy to inadvertently plagiarise your work under the mounting pressure of expectation and deadlines. That’s why we’ve created this open-access generator to automate the referencing process, allowing you to save valuable time transcribing and organising your references. So, rather than starting from scratch when your essay, article, or research is due, save yourself the legwork with the world’s most accurate reference generator. It’s the quickest and easiest way to reference any source.

There are thousands of other referencing styles out there - the use of which one varies according to scholarly discipline, university requirements, your professor’s preference or the publication you are writing for. Sign up to RefME to select from over 7,500+ styles, including university variations of each.

So, if you are looking to reference your work using Harvard referencing, or your discipline prefers that you use APA referencing, we’ve got you covered. Check out the wide range of styles available on RefME's website, as well as the Chicago citation generator above you’ll find open-generators for styles such as MLA, OSCOLA and Vancouver. Search for your university-specific style by logging into your RefME account and setting your institution in ‘My Profile’. Once you know which style you are using, it is essential that you stick to their style guidelines when referencing your work.

Keep reading our comprehensive guide for practical advice and examples that will help you create your references with ease. If you need further information or examples, consult the official style manual (16th edition).

How do I Create and Format My Citations?

Whilst RefME’s Chicago style citation generator ensures ultimate accuracy whether you are writing a university assignment or preparing a research project, you are encouraged to review your references manually for consistency, accuracy and completeness according to this guide.

I. Notes-Bibliography System

  • Formatting a footnote

  • If you are adopting the Chicago style referencing NB system, you should insert a footnote to acknowledge your source material, rather than a parenthetical reference. Whenever you reference a source, whether it is using a direct quote, paraphrasing another author’s words, or simply referring to an idea or theory, you should:

    • Insert a superscript number (raised slightly above the line) at the end of the sentence containing the source - begin with number 1 and continue numerically throughout the paper

    • The superscript number should follow any punctuation mark (full stops, parentheses and commas etc.). Do not put any punctuation after the number

    • Each number must correspond to a matching number at the foot of the page - whilst note numbers in-text are set as superscript numbers, the notes themselves are full size

    • Footnote generally lists the author (first name first), title, and facts of publication (enclosed in parentheses), in that order - each should be separated by commas. Titles are capitalised, titles of books and journals are italicised, titles of smaller works (e.g. chapters or articles) are presented in roman and enclosed in double quotation marks

    • Footnotes should always end with a period in Chicago style referencing (except when an URL or DOI has been added)

    • Notes should be separated from the main body of text with a typed line 1 ½ inches long

    • Notes are single-spaced, and the first line of each footnote is indented two spaces from the page margin. Double-space between each note

    • Abbreviations include editor/edited by/ edition (ed/eds.), translator/translated by (trans.), volume (vol.), chapter (chap.), no date (n.d), part (pt.), and others (et al.) and revised/revised by/revision/review (rev.)

    Read more about formatting your footnotes on Monash University’s website.

  • Formatting a shortened note

  • Whilst the first reference for each source should include all relevant bibliographic information, if you reference the same source again Chicago style referencing guidelines permit you to use a shortened form of the note.

    • The short form need only include enough information to remind your reader of the full title, or to direct them to the appropriate entry in the bibliography

    • Include the surname of the author, a shortened form of the title of the work cited (if more than four words), and page number(s) in the reference

    • If a work has two or three authors, reference in full the first time and subsequently give the last name of each; for more than three, the surname of the first author followed by et al.

    • If you reference the same source (and same page number(s)) from a single source two or more times consecutively, the footnote should use the word “Ibid.,”. If you use the same source but different page number, use “Ibid., (page number)” - e.g. Farmwinkle, Humor of the Midwest, 241 can be cited as ‘Ibid., 258-59.’

    • Are you using Chicago style referencing to cite one source multiple times in the same paragraph? You can reference it either parenthetically in-text or in subsequent notes by means of an abbreviation - e.g. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1996), 52 (hereafter cited in text as Dalloway)

    Formatting an endnote

    If you are drawing on multiple sources, a page cluttered with footnotes can overwhelm your reader. Whilst readers of scholarly works generally prefer footnotes for ease of reference, endnotes are less intrusive and will not interrupt the flow of your work. You should judge for yourself whether footnotes or endnotes would best compliment your assignment, and then RefME’s Chicago citation generator will create them for you.

    • Whilst footnotes are added at the end of the page on which the source is cited, endnotes will be compiled at the end of each chapter or at the end of the entire work (this usually depends on the length of your work)

    • Notes should be numbered consecutively (beginning with number 1) throughout each chapter or article

    • You must include all of the bibliographic information within each entry

    • At the end of the chapter or assignment, list the full references under the heading ‘Notes’

    II. Author-Date System

    If you are using the author-date system in Chicago style referencing, you must indicate each source with a brief parenthetical reference:

    • Include the last name of author and the year of publication in parentheses, with each element separated by a comma. Include a page number if you are quoting a particular section of a source

    • Position the in-text reference (click here to read more about formatting in-text references) at the end of the sentence referring to the source, and place just inside a mark of punctuation - unless it is a block quotation, in which case it is placed outside the punctuation

    • Where the author’s name appears in the text, you don’t need to repeat it in the reference

    • When you are using Chicago style referencing to cite works with more than three authors, only the name of the first author is used, followed by et al. - e.g. (Schonen et al. 2009)

    • Compile a list of all source material in a reference list at the end of your assignment

    Recent revisions to the format have allowed for a certain degree of flexibility. For instance, you may prefer to use a combination of footnotes and parenthetical author-date references (especially if you have an excess of notes) - you could use author-date references to indicate sources within the text, and numbered footnotes or endnotes to add comments.

    Why not give the RefME app or Chicago style citation generator a try? Save yourself the bother of formatting your references and have the whole thing done in moments using our state-of-the-art automated technology. Simply search for the author or title of the book you want to reference and leave the rest to us.

    Creating My Bibliography and Reference List

    Each reference in the body of your written work should be directly keyed to a bibliography or reference list entry. Compiling a full list of all the source material that has contributed to your research and writing process is the perfect opportunity to show your reader the effort you have gone to in researching your chosen topic, ensuring that you get the result you deserve. Remember that RefME’s Chicago citation generator will help you assemble your bibliography...

    I. Notes-Bibliography System

    Have you been wondering how to organise all of your fully-formatted references in a comprehensive list? Well look no further, because here’s the lowdown on how to structure your bibliography:

    • Arrange sources alphabetically by author’s last name (if no author or editor is listed then by the title or keyword that readers are most likely to seek)

    • Usually titled ‘Bibliography’, and placed at the end of your work but preceding the index

    • A full bibliography will include all relevant sources that provided further reading, even if they were not directly referenced in your work - check with your tutor whether or not this is necessary

    • Each bibliographic entry should include: author name (last name first, separating last and first name with a comma), title of work (italicised, titles of articles and chapters etc. enclosed in quotation marks instead), publication information (publisher name, location, year of publication - not enclosed in parentheses)

    • All the main elements in the reference are separated by periods rather than commas

    • Terms such as editor, edition, translator, volume can be abbreviated within in-text Chicago style referencing, but edited by, translated by must be spelled out in the bibliography

    • Do not include specific page numbers, but for easier location of chapters or journal articles, include the beginning and ending page numbers of the whole chapter or article

    • Go here to find more information on accurately compiling a bibliography

    II. Author-Date System

    If you are adopting the author-date variant of the style, read the above list for a guide on how to compile your reference list. There are just two differences from the notes-bibliography system:

    • Instead of a bibliography your list should be titled ‘References’ or ‘Works Cited’

    • The year of publication comes directly after the author’s name - this facilitates the easy lookup of reference list entries because it copies the format of the in-text reference

    Are you spending too much time on completing your bibliography? RefME’s Chicago citation generator is here to take a weight off your mind. Sign up to RefME to save and export your completed bibliography directly into Microsoft Word, Evernote, EndNote and more. Or upgrade your account to RefME Plus to cite as you write within your document with RefME for Word 2016 for Windows, Mac and iPad. Add stored references to your work and manage your bibliography all from within Microsoft Word.

    Chicago Style Referencing Examples (16th Edition)

    Carefully follow these examples when compiling and formatting both your in-text references and bibliography in order to avoid losing marks for referencing incorrectly.

    I. Notes-Bibliography System

    Each example in this section includes a numbered footnote, a shortened form of the note, and a corresponding bibliography entry for you to follow when using Chicago style referencing.

    Book with single author or editor:

    • Full reference in a footnote:

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

    • Shortened reference in a footnote:

    • 5. Pollan, Omnivore’s Dilemma, 3.

    • Bibliography entry:

    • Pollan, Michael, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006.

    Book with multiple authors:

    Are you using Chicago style referencing to cite a book with two or more authors?Note that only the first-listed name is inverted in the bibliography entry.

    • Full reference in a footnote:

    • 3. Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The War: An Intimate History, 1941–1945 (New York: Knopf, 2007), 52.

    • Shortened reference in a footnote:

    • 3. Ward and Burns, War, 52.

    • Bibliography entry:

    • Ward, Geoffrey C., and Ken Burns. The War: An Intimate History, 1941–1945. New York: Knopf, 2007.

    Print journal article:

    • Full reference in a footnote:

    • 89. Walter Blair, “Americanized Comic Braggarts,” Critical Inquiry 4, no. 2 (1977): 331-32.

    • Shortened reference in a footnote:

    • 89. Blair, “Americanized Comic Braggarts,” 335.

    • Bibliography entry:

    • Blair, Walter. “Americanized Comic Braggarts.” Critical Inquiry 4, no. 2 (1977): 331-49.

    Online journal article:

    When referencing electronic sources researched online, the Chicago style referencing manual recommends including an electronic resource identifier, where possible, to lead your reader directly to the source.

    A URL is a uniform resource locator, which directs the reader straight to the online source. When using a URL, copy the address from your browser’s address bar when viewing the article. You must include the source’s full publication information as well. Or simply paste the URL into RefME’s Chicago citation generator to auto-generate your reference.

    • Full reference in a footnote:

    • 12. Wilfried Karmaus and John F. Riebow, “Storage of Serum in Plastic and Glass Containers May Alter the Serum Concentration of Polychlorinated Biphenyls,” Environmental Health Perspectives 112 (May 2004): 645, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3435987.

    • Shortened reference in a footnote:

    • 12. Karmaus and Riebow, “Storage of Serum,” 645.

    • Bibliography entry:

    • Karmaus, Wilfried, and John F. Riebow. “Storage of Serum in Plastic and Glass Containers May Alter the Serum Concentration of Polychlorinated Biphenyls.” Environmental Health Perspectives 112 (May 2004): 643-647. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3435987.


    A DOI is a digital object identifier; a unique and permanent name assigned to a piece of intellectual property, such as a journal article, in any medium in which it is published. If it is available, Chicago style referencing guidlines prefer that you include the DOI rather than the ISBN.

    • Full reference in a footnote:

    • 3. William J. Novak, “The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” American Historical Review 113 (June 2008): 758, doi:10.1086/ahr.113.3.752.

    • Shortened reference in a footnote:

    • 3. Novak, “Myth,” 770.

    • Bibliography entry:

    • Novak, William J. “The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” American Historical Review 113 (June 2008): 752-72. doi:10.1086/ahr.113.3.752.

    II. Author-Date System:

    Each example in this section includes an in-text reference and a corresponding reference list entry for you to follow when using Chicago style referencing.

    Article with single author or editor, author mentioned in text:

    • In-text reference:

    • Here we empirically demonstrate that workers’ and regulatory agents’ understandings of discrimination and legality emerge not only in the shadow of the law but also, as Albiston (2005) suggests…

    • Reference list entry:

    • Albiston, Catherine R. 2005. “Bargaining in the Shadow of Social Institutions: Competing Discourses and Social Change in the Workplace Mobilization of Civil Rights.” Law and Society Review 39 (1): 11-47.

    Article with multiple authors, author not mentioned in text:

    • In-text reference:

    • As legal observers point out, much dispute resolution transpires outside the courtroom but in the “shadow of the law” (Mnookin and Kornhauser 1979)...

    • Reference list entry:

    • Mnookin, Robert, and Lewis Kornhauser. 1979. “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: The Case of Divorce.” Yale Law Journal 88 (5): 950-97.

    *For a work with four or more authors, include all the authors in the reference list entry. However, in the in-text reference you need only cite the last name of the first-listed author, followed by et al. (e.g. Barnes et al. 2008, 118-19)

    For more examples, see chapters 14 and 15 of the official style manual (sixteenth edition), or find more information available here.

    A Brief History of the Style

    Chicago style referencing dates back to 1891 when the University of Chicago Press opened. The Press housed typesetters and compositors who were working on setting and deciphering complicated scientific material in fonts such as Hebrew and Ethiopic. A style sheet was devised with the aim of maintaining consistency throughout the typesetting process; from the typesetter, to the compositor, to the proofreader.

    Over the years the ‘University Press stylebook and style sheet’ developed into a pamphlet used by the entire university community, before becoming a 200-page book in 1906: Manual of Style: Being a compilation of the typographical rules in force at the University of Chicago Press, to which are appended specimens of type in use - also known as the first edition of the Manual. Today’s thousand-page 16th edition provides authors, editors, publishers, copywriters and proofreaders across the globe with the authoritative text on the style.

    The Chicago style is continually evolving, with each edition undergoing revisions that reflect technological developments. For instance, the publication of the 13th edition in 1982 addressed the use of personal computers and word processors for the first time. When the World Wide Web became a global phenomenon in the 1990s, the very nature of research and communication shifted dramatically. The style’s editorial staff tackled this development by releasing a comprehensive 15th edition (2003) that incorporated the role of computer technology in the publishing industry by providing guidance on referencing electronic sources.

    The 16th - and latest - edition of the Chicago style referencing manual (2010) was the first edition to be published both in hardcover and online. The manual reflects the changes undergone by the publishing industry in response to the digital age, and the subsequent evolution in the way in which authors and publishers work. It addresses a diverse range of source types that define academic publishing today; from URLs and DOIs to ebooks, Instagram and foreign languages, and provides comprehensive examples that illustrate how to reference online and digital sources.

    The 16th edition also revamped the referencing style in order to move towards a more uniform style that closes the gap between the Notes-Bibliography and Author-Date systems. By recommending a single approach to each stylistic matter, rather than a myriad of puzzling options and exceptions to the rule, the style offers efficient and logical solutions to the sometimes-complex referencing process. Still confused? Use our powerful Chicago citation generator to create your references with ease.

    Why is Referencing Important?

    Plagiarism occurs when a writer does not properly credit their source material; stealing the ideas or words of another and passing them off as one’s own is literary theft. Failure to acknowledge the sources upon which you’ve built your work is a breach of academic integrity, and this can result in a failed module, expulsion from university or even legal action from the original author. The proper use of a referencing system protects writers from committing plagiarism and being accused of plagiarising their work.

    Both courtesy and copyright laws require you to identify the following in your work:

    • Where you directly quote another author’s words

    • Where you paraphrase or summarise another author’s words or ideas

    • Where you include information, facts or ideas that are not generally known or easily checked

    As a general rule, you must highlight any borrowed source material that might appear to be your own if it is not referenced correctly. When in doubt, remember that it is much better to over-cite your work than under-cite.

    The importance of attributing your research goes beyond avoiding plagiarism, and whilst it may seem like a tedious process, attributing and documenting your sources is an essential practice for all academic writers. Accurate Chicago style referencing will validate your work by demonstrating that you have thoroughly researched your chosen subject and found a variety of scholarly opinions and ideas to support, or challenge, your thesis. As an academic writer, your written work is a chance to engage in conversation with the scholars that you are referencing by placing your own ideas in the context of the larger intellectual conversation about your topic. In correctly using references, you also lead your reader directly to the sources you have consulted, thereby enabling them to form their own views on your opinions and appreciate your contribution to the topic.

    Here at RefME we know that referencing can be an arduous and time-consuming process. Luckily for you, you can work more efficiently - and avoid being marked down for plagiarism - by using RefME’s Chicago style citation generator.

    How do I Accurately Reference My Sources with RefME?

    Are you battling to get your bibliography finished on time? Feeling the pressure of imminent deadlines? Remove all the pain of referencing with RefME’s intuitive and accurate referencing generator.

    RefME is committed to educating academic writers across the globe in the art of accurate referencing. We believe it is essential that you equip yourself with the knowledge of why you need to use a referencing system, how best to insert references in the main body of your assignment, and how to accurately compile a bibliography. At first, referencing may seem like a waste of time when you would much rather be focusing on the actual content of your work, but after reading this extensive Chicago style referencing guide we hope that you will see referencing as a valuable, lifelong skill that is worth honing.

    Our multi-platform tool is designed to fulfill all of your referencing needs - whether you’re working at home, in the library, or on-the-go… With features such as Photo Quotes, which translates printed text into digital text for you to save as a quote, and organisational functions such as Folders, RefME will transform the way that you carry out your research. Unlock RefME’s full potential by upgrading your account to RefME Plus.

    Sign up for free now and use our Chicago style citation generator to add and edit references on the spot, import and export full projects or individual entries, make use of our add-ons and save your work in the cloud. Or step it up a notch with our browser extension RefME for Chrome - work smarter by referencing web pages, articles, books and videos directly from your browser whilst you research online.

    Have you found a relevant book in the public library? Or stumbled across the perfect source to support your thesis in an archive? Wherever you are, reference your sources on the move with your mobile phone or tablet - scan the barcode of a book with RefME’s mobile app to add fully-formatted references to your projects. Available on both iOS and Android.

    Stand on the shoulders of giants by accurately citing your source material using RefME’s fast, accessible and free Chicago citation generator.

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