When writing a paper that discusses previous work by the same set of authors, what is the correct way to refer to it?

For example,

"In 2012 Fred et al. introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234]."

Should this be written

"In 2012 we introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234]."

or perhaps

"In 2012 the current authors introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234]."

or even

"In 2012 Fred et al. (the current authors) introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234]."

Note that in this style the reference is [1234], in case that wasn't clear.


This usually depends on whether or not you paper will be reviewed double-blind or not. If it's going to be double-blind, then you need to refer to yourself in the third person (i.e. by name, "Fred, et al.") rather than using a pronoun. If it's only going to be single-blind review, then I think it's a matter of style whether you use a pronoun or refer to yourself by name, though the venue you are submitting to, or your field, may have preferences. In which case, you should ask around.

  • Good point. It is not going to be reviewed double-blind. The reference is [1234] at the end of the sentence. Perhaps having 1234 citations was a little unrealistic. – dorothy Mar 31 '15 at 15:43
  • @dorothy, I knew what "[1234]" was, but not, literally, "[...]". Did you mean an ellipsis denoting more text in those two places, or the same "[1234]" citation? – Bill Barth Mar 31 '15 at 15:49
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    Edited question to make it clearer. Sorry for any confusion. – dorothy Mar 31 '15 at 15:50
  • Thank you. What would be the style in the venues you publish in? – dorothy Mar 31 '15 at 16:39
  • It's generally open. I have used "we" if the author list is identical. No one is going to reject your paper because of this stylistic choice. You might get an editor requesting you to change it, at the most. – Bill Barth Mar 31 '15 at 16:53

Although this can be a matter of style, whenever possible, I like to say "I" or "we" when I have been involved in the prior work. I think that it is important for two reasons:

  1. It is more transparent and honest about possible biases in your citation and perspective on the field, so it doesn't feel like you're claiming independent evidence when you are citing yourself.
  2. It helps to make it clear how a particular piece of work fits into an overall research program.

I also like an active voice style better and think it communicates more clearly, but that may be a matter of style rather than substance.

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    Also, there is a reason why most languages have personal pronouns I and we, and this reason applies to academic publications just as much as to every other type of communication. – user27799 Apr 1 '15 at 22:27

As Bill Barth says in his answer, it's a matter of style. I personally think that people shouldn't hide quite as much behind passive voice and "Fred et al.". It's refreshing to read people speak in their first voice, so I personally would not mind seeing more statements of the form

Following a long list of unsuccessful attempts, we finally succeeded in devising a third way of resolving the washing crisis in 2012, see [1234].

You may or may not feel comfortable with showing this much of yourself, but I imagine only the most stuck up reviewers are going to ding you for it.

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    The only place where I have any qualms about using 'we' is when most of the authors coincide, the lead authors (especially when it's literally me) have done most of the work, but the author lists don't coincide exactly. I shouldn't use 'we' in these cases, and I don't, but sometimes I want to. I want to convey the continuing team aspect of the work, but I also don't want to be misleading. – Bill Barth Apr 1 '15 at 2:55
  • I see this very often (and committed myself previously), but there is an opinion that everything in brackets or parenthesis should be possible to omit during reading. Hence, see [123] is a bad style, but as Fred et al. [123] mentioned is a good one. I try to stick to this during my writing. – Oleg Lobachev Feb 2 '18 at 15:02

Assuming that the author list for the current and cited paper are the same, I would follow this approach.

While submitting for review:

In 2012 Fred et al. introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234].

When paper is accepted:

In 2012 we introduced a third way of resolving the washing crisis [1234].


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