Let's say that Jones and Smith publish a mathematical paper containing a result (Theorem 3.1, say,) which is said in that paper to be due to Smith alone but appears for the first time in her joint paper with Jones. How should I cite this result?

Here are a few examples of ways I might cite the result if Jones were not a co-author of the paper (for definiteness let's say the paper is number 7 in my bibliography):

  1. "By a theorem of Smith [7, Theorem 3.1]..."

  2. "Our argument is based on that of Smith [7, Theorem 3.1]..."

  3. "...implies the hypothesis of Smith's theorem [7, Theorem 3.1]..."

How might I adapt these phrasings to the situation described above?


I would just cite it as "Jones and Smith" and not worry about it. The standard in math is to cite papers by their authors. If Smith wanted to be cited alone, she should have published the result herself.

I think this situation has some precedent in other fields. I might be wrong, but think some journals such as Nature (see http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/gta/#a5.5 "author contributions") make the authors disclose who did what. It does not mean that the paper needs to be cited differently depending on what part of it is used.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I suspect it may be different in math than in science, because in my experience it is not the standard practice in math to say who did what in a jointly authored paper, so when a math paper attributes a result to one of its authors I would assume that there is a definite reason (e.g. the result was proved before the collaboration began, is unpublished, and is included in the joint paper because it is an essential part of the paper, but doesn't completely dominate the other authors' contributions to the paper.) – Trevor Wilson Aug 7 '14 at 19:06
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    Yes, I understand. I would still cite with both authors and not worry about it :) – Lev Reyzin Aug 7 '14 at 19:40
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    The citation is to the paper by both authors, but I think that is not exactly what the OP is asking about. He is asking whether he should describe the result as being due to Smith or due to Jones-Smith, I believe. – Pete L. Clark Aug 7 '14 at 23:49
  • To clarify the question in light of Pete Clark's comment, I should say that I know that the bibliography entry must be "[7] A.B. Jones and C.D. Smith, ...." and the question is only about how to cite their paper in the body of my paper. But perhaps you already interpreted the question this way. – Trevor Wilson Aug 8 '14 at 0:22

This is an unusual situation in mathematics: I'm not sure if I've ever seen a singly claimed theorem in a multiply authored mathematics paper except when the theorem has its provenance in explicitly mentioned earlier work of the single author. (I would be interested to see an example.) I'm pretty sure there is no "standard" answer.

One idea would be to bail out of listing either author's name: you could just say "Our argument is based on [7, Theorem 3.1]...." This is not ideal: I think that when you cite someone's work in a critical way then their name should appear in the text itself rather than be pointed to / abbreviated in the bibliographic citation. But this is not a hard and fast rule, so far as I know.

I suppose that if the paper itself says the theorem is due to Smith alone and not Jones-Smith, then you should attribute it that way in your writing. Thus all of your suggested phrasings seem appropriate to me. Readers who see "theorem of Smith [7, Theorem 3.1]" and then flip to the end to find a paper of Jones-Smith may be a bit surprised...but then they'll read the paper and see that you've reported the attribution as Jones and Smith themselves did.

If this is a really famous theorem then the community at large -- or even different portions of the community -- may have its own feelings about how to refer to it. (A vaguely similar instance in contemporary mathematics is that some people speak of Maynard's Theorem and others speak of Maynard-Tao...) In this case, by saying one thing rather than another you may be signalling some kind of political allegiance / personal fealty....Such issues are beyond the scope of this answer.

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    An example would be the paper "Weakly homogeneous trees" by D.A. Martin and W.H. Woodin, which appears in the following book: cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/mathematics/…. The book is mostly a collection of reprinted articles, but includes a few new articles, such as the one mentioned above, that I think are based on older unpublished work. If I remember correctly (I can't access it now,) the paper states two main theorems, one attributed to Martin and the other to Woodin. – Trevor Wilson Aug 7 '14 at 18:50
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    I would like to avoid writing things like "our argument is based on [7, Theorem 3.1]..." for the reason that you mention and also because I have been led to believe that it isn't grammatical (the bracketed expression behaves as a footnote and not as a noun phrase.) – Trevor Wilson Aug 7 '14 at 18:53
  • @TrevorWilson, whether it's grammatical or not, it's a very common construction. – Bill Barth Aug 7 '14 at 21:39
  • @BillBarth Sure, but I value correctness higher than commonality. – Trevor Wilson Aug 7 '14 at 22:01
  • @TrevorWilson, English usage is subject to description much more than rules. Last century's grammatical is this century's hillbilly talk. – Bill Barth Aug 7 '14 at 22:06

The examples you suggested are fine even when Jones is a coauthor of paper 7. In fact, I see it as the best way of conveying the information. I have seen such citation being adopted, e.g., in this paper. If you have access to it, see page 258, where the authors wrote

... in Budal’s original derivation [12, eqn (5.2)],

although the cited paper 12 is a two-author paper, as you may find in the references. In this example, one of the authors who cited paper 12 was a coauthor of that paper, so he knew that the derivation was due to Budal alone.

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