Suppose a paper has authors A, B, C, and D. The first author, A, isn't in academia anymore, and much of my work is inspired by the senior author, D. I've also only communicated with author D.

Can I say/write "author D et al."?

When I looked this up, "first author et al." is the recommended version, but I would rather prefer to say "author D et al."

This isn't for a formal paper submission, but rather for something like a blog post describing my recent findings, which I hope will be published in the near future.

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    If you used APA style the first citation of a work with three to five authors would require to include all authors anyway. It'd be helpful if you disclosed which citation style you are referring to. – Paul K Apr 16 at 5:56
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    Furthermore, citations don't have the primary use to tribute the authors, but to enable the reader to counter check the claims you've made with the original source. – Paul K Apr 16 at 5:59
  • I assume if you were to use "and others", it would be distinct enough from the usual citation conventions – lucidbrot Apr 16 at 6:01
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    What if author D also leaves academia? Citation is only about who wrote the paper. It is not about who is still available for questions. Since, this is not for a paper, you can provide additional information (e.g. that author A isn't available for communication due to him/her leaving academia, and that communication is possible with author D) in a accompanying footnote. – Dohn Joe Apr 16 at 9:00

I think in an informal medium like a blog post, you could convey that author D is the main character in the “story” you are trying to tell while still maintaining proper citation standards by saying something like, “Author D and his/her colleagues (Author A, et al., 2018) have shown that...”

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    This is a great approach. One should stick closely to the conventions of referencing, but that doesn't mean that the surrounding prose has to be machine-like and ignore the level of contributions of the authors. We are indeed telling stories, and the references are just there to support that. I'd only suggest that this isn't limited to blog posts. There is no reason why this can't be done in formal journal articles and thesis writing (and indeed, it often is). – Michael MacAskill Apr 16 at 2:48
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    I often use this phrasing in the context of a talk, though I don't know if I've ever written it out. Refer to work in "the lab of Author D" and then point to citations with other first authors...makes a lot of sense in a field where the senior author is the one that is consistent and can unify a collection of related work. – Bryan Krause Apr 16 at 2:55
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    @BryanKrause I have just written such text in a grant application where I was trying to convey both the key result and the fact that the research team also includes the person who knows the magic to reproduce the key result. – StrongBad Apr 16 at 2:57
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    Doesn’t this belittle the primary author though? How are they going to get the visibility and exposure? – nsinghs Apr 17 at 14:53
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    The primary author is still getting cited, so I don't think it belittles them. I guess I was thinking (based on the OP) of a situation where "Author D" has been publishing in this field for many years and with many coauthors. So when referring to "Author D and colleagues," we're talking about the big picture. (And to that point, it might make more sense in cases where there are multiple citations in the parenthetical, not just one.) – LarrySnyder610 Apr 17 at 15:28

Your feelings and the journal citation rules might not align the way you want them to be. Therefore, I suggest you stick with the accepted norms and go with author a et al., even if it is an informal conversation or blog.

Using any author other than the first author in citation would not only do injustice to that author, but would also be a disservice to the readers. Readers would probably be confused when trying to find the bibliography of that citation in the reference list.

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    I've informally run into trouble doing something analogous - with no ill intent - so yes, proper citation is the right way to go. – kcrisman Apr 16 at 1:23
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    Agree that one should stick to citation conventions. One can, however, often simply insert phrasing around the citations that give credit to the senior team member, which is often more meaningful to the audience in the field. For example: "Work in this area was pioneered by Jean Smith in Tokyo (e.g. Jones et al., 2000; Brown et al., 2005)." Edit: actually just saw that the answer by @LarrySnyder610 below says much the same thing. – Michael MacAskill Apr 16 at 2:43

The only situation when this is common is if you're referring to multiple papers at once. However, even then you'd probably want to use formal citations in parentheses (like mentioned by LarrySnyder):

LAST AUTHOR et al. have done a lot of work showing phenomenon X (AUTHOR A et al., year; AUTHOR B et al., year).

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    Surely, that should be al. et Last Author. ;-) – David Richerby Apr 16 at 11:16
  • +1, and also adding that this is even more appropriate if the paper in question has an 'equal authorship' clause, many of which do. – Tasos Papastylianou Apr 17 at 13:29

Not enough reputation to comment, hence writing as answer.

The other answers didn't address the "I've also only communicated with author D." part.

If that personal communication yielded information that is not in the paper, you can cite (in addition to the paper) "D: Personal Communication".

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When using citations in an informal text, one often refers to papers in the form (Author A et al., 2018) mainly to make it easy for the reader to know which paper is being addressed without the need to scroll to the end and see the full list of citations (which you should always include, be it a blog post, Powerpoint slides, or a journal article).

In my field (computer science), it is common that people rarely produce multiple first author publications within one year, so referring to a paper as (Author A, 2018) usually narrows it down to a single publication. However, the last place in the author list is usually reserved for a PI/senior researcher, who has his name on dozens of papers every year. Referring to a paper as (Famous Researcher, 2018) tells very little about the actual paper you are talking about.

As long as you care about the reader, I would use the first author's name.


It just isn't that much work to name everyone. Think of all the work all the authors put into that paper. We can all afford to spend one extra second reading all of their names. And that extra second might make someone recognize the name on a file and result in someone getting a job they otherwise wouldn't have. There's no justification for using "et al."

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    Says a mathematician were the typical style is [1] and no names. – StrongBad Apr 16 at 2:59
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    Try to list all the names of ATLAS collaboration, even when it is 5 or 6 people it starts to be quite awkward in the text. More than 30 and it is a problem even if the reference list. – Vladimir F Apr 16 at 5:34
  • Number citations are bad, I agree! For large collaborations use the name of the collaboration. – Noah Snyder Apr 16 at 12:29
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    Yeah, no. An intro paragraph with more than a citation or two, each with 7+ authors quickly becomes completely unreadable if you type them all out. – Azor Ahai Apr 16 at 19:44
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    It can become awkward to name everyone. In some experimental fields it is not unheard of to have dozens of authors. The citation format then becomes unwieldy. – TimothyAWiseman Apr 16 at 19:57

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