Cliffs Notes(or CliffsNotes, as written on CliffsNotes products) are a series of study guides providing summary and explanation of literary works. Thanks to Cliffs Notes’popularity, the term has entered the language as (1) a noun referring to a summary or brief explanation of a long text or speech, and (2) an adjective (usually in the phrase Cliffs Notes version) meaning shortened or summarized.
Cliffs Notes is usually written either Cliff Notes or Cliff’s Notes. Neither reflects the name of the product, but both errors are understandable; Cliff Notes is easier to say than Cliffs Notes, and Cliff’s Notes is more grammatical than Cliffs Notes. But for anyone who wishes to be careful with the term should honor its source by preserving its original form—Cliffs Notes. And incidentally, it doesn’t need to be in quotation marks.
The questionable forms appear often—for example:
Below you’ll find our Cliff Notes version of what you should watch for tonight. [Washington Post]
But the fanboys want a deep, new story and don’t want to see a Cliff’s Notes version of the comic book series. [Big Hollywood]
Here are the cliff notes on what I believe is going to happen quickly within the next eleven weeks. [UFO Digest]
But careful writers use the actual brand name (either with or without the space), as in these examples:
Huntsman’s biggest problem is that there are basically two CliffsNotes versions of his candidacy. [Time]
For those who might find the report’s 633 pages a bit daunting for a weekend read, we offer a Cliffs Notes version. [New York Times]
But the Cliffs Notes version begins in 2009, when Gundlach was passed over for the position of TCW chief executive. [Fortune]