My name is John Smith and I'm writing a paper. In the discussion of the existing literature, I cite quite a few papers from another team, including many whose first author was a David Smith. I usually write this using heavily the “et al” style:

Einstein et al. first established in 1976 a possible plan for eradicating world hunger by massive beet culture in Antartica,1 but it took 20 years before Wiles et al. clearly delineated the challenges of such a prospect.2 The earlier analyses, by Smith et al.,3–7 held the narrow view that climate3–5 and transportation issues6–7 would be the limiting factors, forgetting to address the marketing aspects and negative implications on consumer image of the brand. In this paper, we present …

(the journal style calls for superscript numbers for citations)

Now, it seems somewhat likely that the reader may think the Smith from “Smith et al.” may actually be me. How should I help avoid this?

  1. Not worrying about it.
  2. Use first name or initial, “David Smith et al.” or “D. Smith et al.”
  3. Choosing another author, like the last author, as in “Professor et al.”?
  4. Some other formulation?
  • 1
    #2. This is the way I've seen it on other papers. Aug 28, 2013 at 7:58
  • 4
    #1. The list of references should contain at least initials, which hopefully make clear this is another Smith.
    – gerrit
    Aug 28, 2013 at 8:14
  • 1
    Another possibility is to use a statement like "D. Smith et al. (year) states that..."
    – user7130
    Aug 28, 2013 at 8:51
  • 1
    I like your example, too! Aug 28, 2013 at 18:40

2 Answers 2


Working through your list:

  1. Using just the standard "Smith et al." is the usual standard that I've seen in my fields (physics, materials science, chemical engineering).

  2. If you feel the need to indicate explicitly that this is not your work, then you can choose to use a variant that includes the full initials of the author:

    "D. A. Smith et al. found. . . ."

  3. Using a formulation "Professor et al." is incorrect usage of et al., which is normally used to designate in "actual" order the authors listed. The better formulation would be "Jones and colleagues" or "Jones and co-workers"; however, if the same first author is responsible for all of the papers, then using one of the other authors as the "focal point" is very misleading.

  4. Other formulations, I believe, would be much less common than any of the other variants you've listed.

However, you could always try to just avoid mentioning Smith's name by referring to the contents of the work directly without saying "Smith et al. did X," by writing "X has been observed under conditions Y" or something similar.


If your references clearly can be traced to a unique paper then the name is not (or should not be) confusing. Yes, someone may mistake you for someone else or vice versa but then their checking of sources is out of sub-par. You can safely continue referencing the (standard) way you do it.

If two publications exist as Smith yyyy (Smith et al. yyyy) then it is common to use letters so that the references become Smith yyyya and Smith yyyyb (Smith et al. yyyya; Smith et al. yyyyb). So not even in this case is it necessary to add initials. You may find that initials are used in older puiblications but by introducing the letters to distinguish several similar references initials have become obsolete.

It is also possible to add indicators in the text that allows the reader to understand where your work is referenced by using "we" or "I" (as the case may be) when discussing a particular reference/result, that is use an active voice instead of passive.

  • This is how I have always seen it done.
    – earthling
    Aug 28, 2013 at 13:24
  • 1
    Problem is that citation style in my field is most often superscript numbers (and references ordered at the end)… that doesn't help with disambiguation!
    – F'x
    Sep 13, 2013 at 15:16

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