This is version 7.1 of the Off on a Tangent style guide, which was adopted on September 27, 2018.

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. In these cases, and in the case of content written in earlier versions of the Tangent style, content has been partially updated to better conform with the current styles.

Base Style Guide

The basis of this style guide is the seventeenth edition of the Chicago Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press (herein, Chicago), which should be followed as the prescriptive style guide except where it conflicts with the house styles described below (herein, Tangent). These house styles clarify, modify, and extend Chicago, and they are organized according to Chicago’s structure.

Chapter 5: Grammar and Usage

5.43: Personal pronouns and gender

Clarification: Male personal pronouns (he, him) are used to refer to individual male members of sexually dimorphic species, including humans. Female personal pronouns (she, her) are used to refer to individual female members.

(Chicago states that “the pronoun takes the antecedent noun’s gender,” but does not clearly explain that nouns referring to members of sexually dimorphic species are normally gendered according to that individual’s sex.)

5.48: Singular “they”

Modification: See Chicago and Tangent 2.256 for guidance regarding individuals’ personal pronoun preferences.

(Replaces: “In general, a person’s stated preference for a specific pronoun should be respected.”)

5.252: Gender bias

Clarification: It is acceptable to use generic masculine pronouns when necessary for clarity, flow, or effect. However, this should be avoided if possible, particularly when it adds nothing of value. Consider using common techniques for achieving gender neutrality (see Chicago 5.255). Otherwise, consider using they or their as a gender-neutral singular pronoun (see Chicago and Tangent 5.256).

(Chicago says that “many reasonable readers find it unacceptable to use the generic masculine pronoun,” but does not explicitly permit or prohibit its use.)

5.256: Gender-neutral singular pronouns

Modification: It is acceptable to use they and their as gender-neutral singular pronouns, even in formal writing.

(Replaces: “Many people substitute the plural they and their for the singular he or she. They and their have become common in informal usage, but neither is considered fully acceptable in formal writing, though they are steadily gaining ground. For now, unless you are given guidelines to the contrary, be wary of using these forms in a singular sense.”)

Modification: Generally, the appropriate male or female personal pronouns should be used when referring to an individual whose sex is known (see Tangent 5.43). This well-established standard best aligns with the principle of truth and accuracy (see Tangent 5.261). At times, it may be appropriate to use incorrect or nonstandard personal pronouns when they are preferred by an individual, but this must be clearly explained to the reader. Alternatively, consider avoiding the use of personal pronouns at all in these cases. If it is acceptable to the subject, consider using the singular they and their.

(Replaces: “For references to a specific person, the choice of pronoun may depend on the individual. Some people identify not with a gender-specific pronoun but instead with the pronoun they and its forms or some other gender-neutral singular pronoun; any such preference should generally be respected.”)

5.261: Truth and accuracy (new section)

Credible nonfiction writing requires a commitment to truth and accuracy. Never sacrifice truth or accuracy to be “politically correct” or appear “bias-free.”

Chapter 6: Punctuation

6.19: Serial commas

Clarification: Always use the serial or Oxford comma before the conjunction in a series of three or more.

(Chicago “strongly recommends this widely practiced usage.”)

6.42: Commas with questions

Modification: A question is sometimes included within another sentence either directly or indirectly—not as a quotation but as part of the sentence as a whole. Such a question is usually introduced by a comma (unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence), begins with a capital letter, and is enclosed in quotes. If it is necessary to distinguish such a question from direct quotations, single quotes may be used instead of double quotes.

(Replaces the entire text of Chicago 6.42 with a modified and shortened version of paragraph 6.52 from the sixteenth edition of Chicago. In the sixteenth edition, questions included within another sentence are set apart by a comma, are not enclosed in quotes, and are only capitalized “if it is relatively long or has internal punctuation.” In the seventeenth edition, they are not enclosed in quotes, but are always capitalized.)

6.83: En dash as em dash

Clarification: Never use an en dash as a replacement for an em dash.

(Chicago allows the “British usage” of using en dashes in place of em dashes.)

6.130: Vertical lists—capitalization, punctuation, and format

Modification: In both ordered and unordered lists, always capitalize the first word of each list item.

(Replaces: “If the list is unordered, and unless the items consist of complete sentences, each item carries no end punctuation and each can usually begin lowercase [except for proper nouns]. For lists whose items require more prominence, capitalization may instead be preferred; choose one approach and follow it consistently.”)

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

7.1: Recommended dictionaries

Modification: For general matters of spelling, refer to the online version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and then, if necessary, the online version of Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. For further definitions or alternative spellings, refer to the online versions of Webster’s New World College Dictionary and the New Oxford American Dictionary. For detailed etymology, refer to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

(Replaces the entire text of Chicago 7.1, which states that the recommended dictionary is “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (or its ongoing online-only revision) and the latest edition of its chief abridgment, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (regularly updated online and referred to below as Webster’s),” and then, for further definitions or alternative spellings, “another standard dictionary such as the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.”)

7.22: An alternative practice for words ending in “s”

Clarification: 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, as described (with some noted exceptions) in Chicago 7.16-21.

(The archaic practice of “simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s” is “not recommended” in Chicago.)

7.80: Terms like “web” and “[I]nternet”

Correction: The word “Internet” generally refers to a single, specific wide area network (WAN), and in those cases it is a proper noun and should be capitalized (see Chicago 5.6). The word is sometimes used generically to refer to a general type of WAN, which should be called an internetwork. The Internet is an internetwork.

(Chicago states, “Terms related to the [I]nternet are capitalized only if they are trademarked as such or otherwise constitute the proper name of an organization or the like.” It erroneously treats the word Internet as if it is a generic noun.)

Chapter 8: Names and Terms

8.22-A: Civil titles (extension)

Chicago 8.22 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 Robin Kelly (D-IL)). This style is extended in Tangent. The extended style should be used at the first reference to any elected or appointed political official, foreign or domestic, by parenthetically stating the official’s political party and, if applicable, their political jurisdiction.

Abbreviate U.S. political parties as described in Chapter 10 of Chicago and Tangent. 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 the political party with a single hyphen or dash. Abbreviate U.S. states and territories using their two-letter postal abbreviations (see Chicago 10.27). Label numbered legislative districts with the state abbreviation 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)

8.202: Ordering candidates in election result reporting (new section)

In news-style and tabular reporting of election results, list all candidates who appeared on the official ballot in alphabetical order by last name, without regard for major or minor status or the ordering on the ballot itself.

8.203: Categorizing and ordering candidates in election endorsements (new section)

In election endorsements, all candidates appearing on the official ballot for an office should be categorized as a “major candidate” or “minor candidate.” Major candidates are those expected, based on available polls, 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

Clarification: Use the general rule of spelling out whole numbers from zero through one-hundred, and numerals for numbers above one-hundred, as described in Chicago 9.2, with exceptions as described in the rest of chapter 9.

(Chicago states that, “Many publications, including those in scientific or journalistic contexts, follow the simple rule of spelling out only single-digit numbers and using numerals for all others. . . . ”)

Chapter 10: Abbreviations

10.4: Periods with abbreviations

Modification: Use periods with abbreviations that include one or two capital letters (e.g., “U.S.”), except when appearing in parentheses as a reference to a U.S. state’s postal abbreviation, a time zone, or a political party. Use no periods with abbreviations that include three or more capital letters, even if the abbreviation also includes lowercase letters.

(Replaces: “Use no periods with abbreviations that include two or more capital letters, even if the abbreviation also includes lowercase letters.”)

10.70: Current major U.S. political parties (new section)

Parties whose candidates have earned five percent or more of the popular vote in any of the two most recent elections for President of the United States, U.S. Senate from Virginia, or Governor of Virginia are considered “major parties” and may be abbreviated as follows:

  • D: Democratic; incorporates:
    • Jacksonian (1825-1828)
    • Democratic (Jackson) (1828-present)
  • L: Libertarian (1971-present)
  • R: Republican; incorporates:
    • Free Soil (1848-1854)
    • Opposition (Northern) (1854)
    • Republican (Lincoln) [a.k.a. Grand Old Party, GOP] (1854-present)
    • National Union (1864-1868)

10.71: Current minor U.S. political parties (new section)

Parties whose candidates have earned 0.1% or more of the popular vote in any of the two most recent elections for President of the United States, U.S. Senate from Virginia, or Governor of Virginia are considered “minor parties” and may be abbreviated as follows:

  • C: Constitution; incorporates:
    • U.S. Taxpayers’ (1991-1999)
    • Constitution (1999-present)
  • G: Green; incorporates:
    • Association of State Green Parties (1996-2001)
    • Green (2001-present)

10.72: Former major U.S. political parties (new section)

Parties whose candidates have earned five percent or more of the popular vote in multiple past elections for President of the United States, U.S. Senate from Virginia, or Governor of Virginia, but that have since disbanded or no longer draw 0.1% or more of the popular vote, are considered “former major parties” and may be abbreviated as follows:

  • DR: Democratic-Republican; incorporates:
    • Anti-Administration (1789-1791)
    • Republican (Jefferson) [a.k.a. Democratic-Republican] (1791-1825)
  • DS: Democratic (Southern); incorporates:
    • Constitutional Democratic (Breckinridge) (1860)
    • Democratic (Davis) [a.k.a. CSA Democratic] (1861-1864)
    • States’ Rights Democratic (Thurmond) [a.k.a. Dixiecrats] (1948)
    • American Independent (Wallace) (1968)
  • F: Federalist (1789-1824)
  • RP: Reform; incorporates:
    • Perot independents (1992)
    • Reform (1995-present)
  • S: Socialist; incorporates:
    • Social Democratic (Debs) (1898-1901)
    • Socialist (Debs) (1901-1972)
    • Socialist (Zeidler) (1973-present)
  • SD: Social Democratic (Waldman) (1936-1957)
  • W: Whig; incorporates:
    • National Republican [a.k.a. Anti-Jacksonian] (1825-1833)
    • Whig (1833-1854)
    • Opposition (Southern) (1858-1860)
    • Constitutional Unionist (1860-1861)

10.73: Other notable U.S. political parties (new section)

Parties whose candidates have earned more than five percent of the popular vote in only one election for President of the United States, U.S. Senate from Virginia, or Governor of Virginia, or that are otherwise notable, are considered “other notable parties” and may be abbreviated as follows:

  • AM: American [a.k.a. Native American, Know-Nothing] (1844-1860)
  • CM: Communist (1919-present)
  • PL: People’s [a.k.a. Populist] (1891-1908)
  • PR: Progressive (Roosevelt) [a.k.a. Bull Moose] (1912-1916)
  • PO: Progressive (La Follette) (1924-1934)
  • RE: Readjuster (Virginia) (1877-1895)
  • VC: Virginia Conservative (1965)

Chapter 13: Quotations and Dialogue

13.43: Unspoken discourse

Modification: Thought, imagined dialogue, and other internal discourse (also called interior discourse) should be enclosed in quotation marks. If it is necessary to distinguish internal discourse from direct or spoken discourse, single quotes may be used instead of double quotes.

(Replaces: “Thought, imagined dialogue, and other internal discourse (also called interior discourse) may be enclosed in quotation marks or not, according to the context or the writer’s preference.”)

Off on a Tangent Addendum

T.1: Compliance with canon law

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: Compliance with civil 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, Virginia. There is no obligation to 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, or those that conflict with the higher laws of God and nature.

T.3: 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.4: 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.5: 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.6: Holidays

Mark important holidays with a special image and message appropriate for that holiday. If two or more holidays occur on the same day, those listed in higher categories take precedence over those listed in lower ones. The following holidays are 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
      • Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.—third Monday in January
      • Washington’s Birthday—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 Day—fourth Thursday in November
      • Christmas Day—December 25
    • Virginia state holidays (excluding those that are also federal 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.7: Other grammar and usage references

After consulting the “Grammar and Usage” chapter (see Chicago 5) and recommended dictionaries (see Tangent 7.1), the online or most recent editions of other grammar and usage guides may be consulted, but their guidance need not be treated as prescriptive. The following are general-purpose U.S. English grammar and usage guides in common use:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
  • Fowler’s Concise Dictionary of Modern English Usage by Jeremy Butterfield
  • Garner’s Modern English Usage by Bryan Garner
  • Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage by Merriam-Webster

T.8: Other style references

If Chicago is silent, the online or most recent editions of other style guides may be consulted, but their guidance need not be treated as prescriptive. The following are general-purpose U.S. English style guides in common use:

  • Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law by the Associated Press
  • GPO Style Manual by the U.S. Government Publishing Office
  • MLA Handbook by the Modern Language Association
  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association by the American Psychological Association

It may also be appropriate to consult other topic-specific style guides, though their guidance also need not be treated as prescriptive.

Version History

All versions of the Off on a Tangent style guide have been reliant upon a published style guide. Versions 1-4 were based on the Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook. Versions 5-7 have been based on the University of Chicago Press’s Chicago Manual of Style. From version 6 onward, the style guide has also included a formal house style supplement.

  • Version 7 (effective September 1, 2017): supplemented Chicago Manual of Style (17th Edition)
    • 7.1: September 27, 2018 to present
    • 7.0: September 1, 2017 to September 26, 2018
  • Version 6 (January 1, 2017 to August 31, 2017): supplemented Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition)
  • Version 5 (June 1, 2012 to December 31, 2016): Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition)
  • Version 4 (approx. 2009 to May 31, 2012): MLA Handbook (7th Edition)
  • Version 3 (approx. 2003 to approx. 2009): MLA Handbook (6th Edition)
  • Version 2 (approx. 2000 to approx. 2003): MLA Handbook (5th Edition)
  • Version 1 (approx. 1995 to approx. 2000): MLA Handbook (4th Edition)