I am looking for some specifications on how to use the alphabetic style for citing properly. I know that there are different solutions and that this is highly related to personal preference or specific requirements. But maybe there is some common way to do it. Consider the following three examples:

  1. [...] was already shown in 1998 by Johnson et al. [JHS98] to demonstrate the specific deployment.
  2. [...] was already shown in 1998 by Johnson et al. to demonstrate the specific deployment [JHS98].
  3. [...] was already shown in 1998 by [JHS98] to demonstrate the specific deployment.

Which one would you consider the most standard or most used way?

  • The conventions differ somewhat across fields. So, please state your field in a tag. I have a feeling that mathematicians and theoretical computer scientists don't have a problem with (3), while I've been taught that (3) is an abuse of notation: "The sentence should read fine and make perfectly sense if you omit the brackets of citation". Nov 16, 2018 at 13:38
  • @OlegLobachev This is one of the few things where it seems that math and theoretical CS do things differently (at least judging from comments by JeffE on this site). Nov 16, 2018 at 19:50

2 Answers 2


Numbers 1. and 2. sound perfectly fine to me and are a matter of your personal style. 3. sounds a little unpolished to me and an editor or copy editor might smooth it to one of 1. or 2.


I recommend (2), followed by (1) then (3), but my answer is subjective. The citation breaks the flow in (1) and (3), and I consider (3) bad form because the sentence doesn't make sense when the citation is removed.

  • 2
    Why is it bad if a sentence stops making sense after a part of it has been removed? Nov 15, 2018 at 17:11
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    I have heard that many times, but at the same time I work in a field where this is definitely not the rule, so I am trying to understand why citations are considered so different from any other part of the sentence in many (if not most) fields. Nov 15, 2018 at 17:34
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    I don't see why I should consider it abuse. It is similar to the use of placeholders for other types of objects like theorems or equations, which definitely need to be able to take an active part in a sentence to make things flow properly. Similarly, one can much more easily refer to the precise way in which a reference is used when allowing it to take part, like "by an argument similar to the proof of [1, Thm. 2]." Nov 15, 2018 at 17:41
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    I don't see how to do that without making the sentence a lot harder to read. Nov 15, 2018 at 18:09
  • 1
    @FedericoPoloni Six authors is easier than three or four (depending on your style guide), because you can use et al
    – user2768
    Nov 16, 2018 at 7:53

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