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I have a habit of using two styles of in-text citation: with and without author name(s). The two examples below describe what I mean: (# here represents a bibliography index)

"...which is in agreement with simulations presented in Lastname et al. [#]."

and just

"...the X method [#] was here used to model..."

(in the latter case, reference # might contain an in-depth description of the X method).

I mix these styles freely, depending on what I deem to be appropriate in each individual case. Am I correct to do this or would you consider it to be bad style?

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I think the main concern is whether you do it correctly or not. Namely, citation marks "[#]" should not appear as nouns in sentences; sentences should still make sense after they are removed. So "This can be found in [10]." is wrong. – Dave Clarke Feb 5 '14 at 15:13
Just to clarify LAST NAME ET AL is part of the sentence and not part of the citation. Outside the context of a citation I find the use of et al. to be pretentious and I would suggest going with "and others" or "and colleagues". – StrongBad May 8 '14 at 19:25
@DaveClarke: The rule you describe is not observed in mathematics. I had never heard of this rule, write "This can be found in [10]" all the time, and have never been corrected by any coauthor or copy editor. – Anonymous May 8 '14 at 19:29
@Anonymous: Horrible. – Dave Clarke May 8 '14 at 19:50
@DaveClarke: Horrible? I just looked at three random math papers (all well written, by well-regarded people, not me) and the rule you describe is not observed by any of them. I believe the real point is that different conventions are observed in different areas of academia, and that it is important to learn and observe the conventions of any area in which you want to write. – Anonymous May 8 '14 at 20:27
up vote 16 down vote accepted

To your title question

Is consistency in citation style important?


On first reading this, it sounded as though you were planning to mix two citation styles such as APA and Chicago. Obviously, this would be unacceptable.

However, in your example, you are using two entirely compatible forms for your in-text citations, which is perfectly acceptable. I would strongly prefer this over the awkward and boring alternative of using exactly the same form for every citation. Continue to use the form that is most appropriate for the situation. Variety is acceptable, even commendable, as long as you are not violating the standards for your documentation style.

Edit: To clarify the point above; mixing the in-text citation style Lastname et al. [#] and [#] is OK! What is not OK is using two separate documentation styles, for example, also using the in-text citation (Last name, year, page), which is proper is APA documentation style, but not in Chicago documentation style!

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Just to make sure I understand you: mixing the style Lastname et al. [#] and [#] is not ok? – andreasdr Feb 5 '14 at 14:37
Please disregard the previous comment, I get your point now. As I understand it, you would agree with sometimes including the author name and sometimes not (depending on containing sentence), but otherwise keeping the citation style consistent (i.e. consistency regarding the format of parentheses, regarding whether to include page numbers etc.). – andreasdr Feb 5 '14 at 15:13
@andreasdr, mixing the in-text citation style Lastname et al. [#] and [#] is OK! What is not OK is using two separate documentation styles, for example, using in-text citation (Last name, year, page) with the in-text citations above. – J. Zimmerman Feb 5 '14 at 15:14
Got it, thanks! – andreasdr Feb 5 '14 at 15:14

Yes, this is fine, as long as you make sure that the names of the authors are part of the sentence.

In general, mixing citation styles is not recommended. However, your examples both reference the citations in the same way: [#]. The other thing you should keep in mind is that sentences should still make perfect sense if all citations are omitted. To this end, I would change your first example to

"...which is in agreement with simulations presented by Lastname et al. [#]."

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Thanks. Good point about making the in-text citations fully compatible with the grammar of the containing sentence. – andreasdr Feb 5 '14 at 15:16

There is absolutely nothing wrong with using different sentence patterns to introduce a citation. In fact, it gets quite tedious to read the same sentence structure over and over again. So, feel free, as you suggested, to use the style which is most appropriate for a given need in a given situation.

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My question is more about the style of the citation itself, rather than the sentence in which it is included. I.e. using both the style Lastname et al. [#] and the style [#] in the same document. Would you consider this to be acceptable? – andreasdr Feb 5 '14 at 14:39
Yes. I would not overuse the "Lastname et al." style, but it's OK to use them together. (That's what I meant above.) – aeismail Feb 5 '14 at 18:11

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