Official Style Guide

For content published after June 1, 2012, Off on a Tangent’s official style guide is the University of Chicago Press’s Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition, 2012-present), as supplemented by the house styles described here.

For content published on-or-before June 1, 2012, the Off on a Tangent official style guide was the Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook (4th Edition, 1995-1999; 5th Edition, 1999-2003; 6th Edition, 2003-2009; 7th Edition, 2009-2012). This content has been partially updated to better conform with the current styles.

Content originally written for academic purposes, or for publication in other media outlets, may have been written in other styles per the requirements of the class, institution, or publication. This content has also been partially updated to better conform with the current styles.

Please report any style or content errors.

Clarifications, Modifications, Extensions

The following styles clarify, modify, or extend those in the Chicago Manual of Style. They are organized according to the structure of the Chicago style. These take precedence in any case where they conflict with the Chicago style. In all other cases, Chicago style is followed.

Chapter 5: Grammar and Usage

  • 5.222: Gender Bias (clarification)
    • It is acceptable to use generic masculine pronouns when it is necessary for clarity, flow, or effect.
    • However, the use of generic masculine pronouns should be avoided if possible, particularly when it adds nothing of value.
      • Consider using one of the common techniques for achieving gender neutrality (refer to Chicago style, 5.225).
      • Otherwise, consider using “they” or “their” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun (refer to Chicago style and house style, 5.227).
  • 5.227: Gender-Neutral Singular Pronouns (modification)
    • It is acceptable to use “they” and “their” as gender-neutral singular pronouns.
    • In the Chicago style, “Neither is considered acceptable in formal writing, so unless you are given guidelines to the contrary, do not use them in a singular sense.” The Off on a Tangent house style gives guidelines to the contrary.
  • 5.231: Truth and Accuracy (insertion of new section after 5.230)
    • Always be truthful and accurate in any non-fiction content.
    • Never sacrifice truth or accuracy in order to be “politically correct” or appear “bias-free.”

Chapter 6: Punctuation

  • 6.18: Serial Commas (clarification)
    • Always use the serial or Oxford comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more.
    • This is “strongly recommended” in the Chicago style, but strictly required in the Off on a Tangent house style.

Chapter 7: Spelling, Distinctive Treatment of Words, and Compounds

  • 7.1: Recommended Dictionaries (modification)
    • Use the most recent edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary as the primary reference dictionary and, where it is silent, refer to the current online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Other dictionaries may be consulted and cited as needed.
    • In the Chicago style, the recommended dictionary is “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and the latest edition of its chief abridgment, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” and then, for further definitions or alternative spellings, “the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language or Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.
  • 7.21: An Alternative Practice for Words Ending in “s” (removal)
    • Use the recommended practice of creating singular possessive nouns by adding an apostrophe and the letter “s,” even if the last letter in the noun is also an “s” (e.g., “James’s car is on fire”), as described in 7.15-18.

Chapter 8: Names and Terms

  • 8.21-A: Civil Titles (new extension of 8.21)
    • The Chicago style allows references to members of the United States Congress by placing their party and state abbreviations in parentheses after the title and name (e.g., Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL)). Off on a Tangent extends this style.
    • Use this style on the first reference to any elected or appointed political official, foreign or domestic.
    • Include the official’s political party:
      • Abbreviate U.S. political parties as described in Chapter 10 of the Chicago style and the related Off on a Tangent house styles.
      • Spell-out the names of foreign political parties and uncommon U.S. political parties not listed in Chapter 10.
      • Identify candidates and officials with no party affiliation as independent (I).
    • Include the official’s represented state, city, county, district, precinct, or ward (if applicable), separated from their political party with a single hyphen or dash.
      • Abbreviate U.S. states and territories using their two-letter postal abbreviations (refer to Chicago style, 10.28).
      • Label numbered legislative districts with the state name and the district’s ordinal numeral.
      • Spell-out the names of cities, counties, districts, precincts, and wards, as well as foreign states.
    • Examples of this style:
      • President Donald Trump (R)
      • Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)
      • Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA 10th)
      • Loudoun Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles)
      • Russian President Vladimir Putin (United Russia)
      • Minister Mark Field (Conservative-London and Westminster)
  • Ordering of Political Candidates (insertion of new section after 8.197)
    • 8.198: Election Result Reporting
      • In news-style and tabular reporting of election results, list all candidates who appeared on the official ballot in alphabetical order by their last names, without regard for major or minor status or the ordering on the ballot itself.
    • 8.199: Election Endorsements
      • In election endorsements, all candidates appearing on the official ballot for an office will be categorized as a “major candidate” or “minor candidate.”
        • Major candidates are those expected to receive five percent or more of the popular vote.
        • Minor candidates are those expected to receive less than five percent of the popular vote.
      • Evaluate the candidates in the following order:
        1. Any incumbent seeking reelection, regardless of major or minor status
        2. Major candidates, alphabetized by last name
        3. Minor candidates, alphabetized by last name

Chapter 9: Numbers

  • 9.3: An Alternative Rule—Zero Through Nine (removal)
    • Use the general rule of spelling out whole numbers from zero through one-hundred, and numerals for numbers above one-hundred, as described in 9.2, with exceptions as described in the rest of chapter 9.

Chapter 10: Abbreviations

Off on a Tangent Addendum

In addition, we have an addendum with style guidance that is specific to Off on a Tangent and has no direct relation to the styles in the Chicago Manual of Style.

  • T.1: Compliance With Civil and Canonical Law
    • Comply with all duly-enacted, constitutionally-permissible laws, ordinances, and regulations of the United States of America, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Loudoun County.
      • Do not comply with laws, ordinances, and regulations that are enacted outside of the constitutional authorities granted to the government by the affirmative consent of the people.
      • Do not comply with laws, ordinances, and regulations that are in conflict with the higher laws of God and nature.
    • Comply with all duly-enacted laws and norms promulgated by Holy See, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington.
      • As a media outlet, particularly comply with the provisions of Inter Mirificia, the decree on the media of social communications, which says in part:
        • “In society men have a right to information, in accord with the circumstances in each case, about matters concerning individuals or the community. The proper exercise of this right demands, however, that the news itself that is communicated should always be true and complete, within the bounds of justice and charity. In addition, the manner in which the news is communicated should be proper and decent.”
  • T.2: Corrections
    • Grammar, style, and spelling corrections, as well as minor edits to improve clarity, do not need to be noted unless they cause a substantial change of meaning.
    • Changes to news pieces and factual corrections to opinion pieces, as well as grammar, style, and spelling corrections that cause a substantial change of meaning, must be noted clearly and, when applicable, credited to the discoverer.
    • A post that is being live-updated should be clearly marked as such, and may be updated and corrected as new information becomes available, without noting each individual change, until the post is marked final.
  • T.3: Weights and Measures
    • Use United States standard weights and measures as defined by U.S. law and by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
    • NIST defines and recognizes both the International System of Units (S.I. or metric system) and the U.S. Customary Unit System (imperial system). The use of either system is acceptable.
    • The S.I. system should be preferred, except in the following cases:
      • Use feet to indicate aircraft altitude.
      • Use nautical miles and knots to indicate air or sea distance and speed.
      • Use miles and miles-per-hour to indicate U.S. highway distance and speed (but use kilometers and kilometers-per-hour for highway distance and speed in other countries, unless that country also uses the U.S. system).
      • Use degrees Fahrenheit to indicate temperature (but use Kelvin or degrees Celsius in scientific contexts).
  • T.4: Time
    • Measure time according to U.S. law and U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards for the Eastern Time Zone (ET; UTC-5), including daylight saving time (UTC-4) from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November.
  • T.5: Holidays
    • Mark important holidays with a special image and message appropriate for that holiday.
    • In the event that two or more holidays occur on the same day, those listed in higher categories take precedence over those listed in lower ones.
    • Holidays to be observed:
      • Religious:
        • Holy Days of Obligation in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington
          • Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God – January 1
          • Ascension of the Lord – Sunday following forty days after Easter
          • Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – August 15
          • All Saints – November 1
          • Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – December 8
          • Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) – December 25
        • Days of Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington
          • Ash Wednesday – forty-six days before Easter
          • Good Friday – Friday before Easter
        • Principle Celebrations of the Liturgical Year in the United States
          • Resurrection of the Lord (Easter) – first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21
          • Pentecost Sunday – fifty days after Easter
          • Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Sunday following sixty days after Easter
          • First Sunday of Advent – fourth Sunday before Christmas
        • Other important Catholic observances in the United States
          • Day of Prayer for Legal Protection of Unborn Children – January 22
          • Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord – one week before Easter
          • Holy Thursday – Thursday before Easter
      • Personal
        • Wedding Anniversary – May 28
        • Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr – August 14
        • Birthday – October 28
      • Government
        • U.S. Federal Holidays
          • New Year’s Day – January 1
          • Martin Luther King Jr. Day – third Monday in January
          • George Washington Day – third Monday in February
          • Memorial Day – last Monday in May
          • Independence Day – July 4
          • Labor Day – first Monday in September
          • Columbus Day – second Monday in October
          • Veterans Day – November 11
          • Thanksgiving – fourth Thursday in November
          • Christmas – December 25
        • Commonwealth of Virginia Holidays
          • Lee-Jackson Day – Friday before the third Monday in January
      • Other
        • Chinese New Year – day of the new moon between January 21 and February 20
        • Flag Day – June 14
        • Patriot Day – September 11
        • Election Day – Tuesday after the first Monday in November
        • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – December 7
  • T.6: Other Style References
    • In the event that the Chicago style is silent, the following style guides should be consulted, but their guidance need not be treated as prescriptive.
      • Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law by the Associated Press
      • MLA Handbook by the Modern Language Association
    • It may be appropriate to consult other topic-specific style guides, though their guidance also need not be treated as prescriptive.

Scott Bradford has been building web sites and using them to say what he thinks since 1995, which tended to get him in trouble with power-tripping assistant principals at the time. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, but has spent most of his career (so far) working on public- and private-sector web sites. He is not a member of any political party, and brands himself an ‘independent constitutional conservative.’ In addition to holding down a day job and blogging about challenging subjects like politics, religion, and technology, Scott is also a devout Catholic, gun-owner, bike rider, and music lover with a wife, two cats, and a dog.