I am currently writing a research paper and am having an issue referring to an author of a paper whose name is "Dadi He". I know that it is common practice to refer to an author by their last name when referring to them or their findings.

Though I find myself writing sentences starting along the lines of "He found that...". I assume that the simple solution is to refer to the author by his full name. But this seems to become repetitive after a few sentences.

Is this correct, is there a more formal or accepted way to do so?

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    If you don't start the sentence by "He", the capital letter should be indication enough (as the reference following I assume). – Zenon Apr 8 '15 at 3:23
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    If the author is male, and you keep referring to him in successive sentences, then there's no difference between either interpretation of "He." – Kimball Apr 8 '15 at 4:02
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    You could use the last name as part of a reference citation. "He (1987) found that ..." – Joel Reyes Noche Apr 8 '15 at 6:04
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    Always refer to him as "D. He"? – Anonymous Apr 8 '15 at 11:44
  • How about putting in the first name (or initial) for the first reference (and likewise for others you reference), and just 'He' afterwards. The first one should tell people that you are talking about someone whose name is He. – Jessica B Apr 9 '15 at 7:24

At least in my field, it’s rather uncommon to mention an author’s name in a paper. Rather it is something along the lines of the following (somewhat depending on the citation style):

Ref. [42] showed that discombobulators can facilitate banana transmogrification.

Recently it was shown that discombobulators can facilitate banana transmogrification [42].

Recently it was shown that discombobulators can facilitate banana transmogrification (He et al., 2014).

That does not mean that it would be wrong to mention an author by name, but I would find a paper that intensively does so somewhat strange – even if the paper heavily builds upon this author’s work. At least I would find it totally acceptable if such an author was mentioned only once or twice.

So as a first step, I suggest to change your writing style as to mention He and other authors less often. If you have a whole paragraph where you refer to He’s work in every sentence, it should suffice to mention this in the first sentence, e.g., like this:

The method we are proposing is an extension of the method proposed by He [42], which briefly works as follows: […]

Mentioning any author in such a paragraph repeatedly, let alone always at the beginning of a sentence is something that I would consider bad style anyway. Be sure to check as to whether this is not totally uncommon in your field.

For the remaining occurrences of He’s name, rephrase the sentences such that the name does not occurr at the beginning of a sentence such that it does not happen at the beginning of a sentence or after an abbrevation. Capitalisation should suffice to make the distinction here. You may hold some subconscious ideal that it should be possible to tackle such issues without rephrasing sentences, but it’s a totally viable approach. Also, as explained before, this should at most apply to a few sentences.

Some thoughts on alternatives and what I consider problematic about them:

  • Mentioning the author’s full name. This is still likely to cause confusion, in particular among those who do not see the issue and wonder why this author is mentioned with a first name. Also, in some situations, the reader may not be aware that the first and last name actually belong together.
  • Prepending the initialised first name of the author. This makes reading your text even more difficult, as one will likely think at first that a sentence ends after D. He’s first name, in particular if it’s grammatically plausible such as in this sentence.

Specific anti-advice (for a related situation):

If this situation arises with a female author, especially if their first name is recognizably female, I encourage you not to write out the full name each time.

It may seem unobjectionable, but this would play into the sexist practice (once widespread, though fortunately much less common today) of referring to men by last name while referring to women always by first and last name:

This phenomenon has been analyzed previously by Schmidt [6], Wang [7], Mary Jones [2,3,4], Elfenbacher [1], Doris Laubin [5], and Washington [8,9].


It's too funny a situation to pass up the opportunity to quip about it in the paper and simply acknowledge the situation. As in:

Our methodology is based on one that was first investigated in D. He (1983) and in the following, we will discuss how the referenced paper inspired our approach. (Referencing the author of He (1983) presents a conundrum because the name can be confused with the male pronoun. In the following, when written in uppercase, we will refer to the name -- though there really is no potential for misunderstandings since D. He is male.)

I do think that occasional humor should not be discouraged.

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    This may be funny the very first time anybody ever does this, but as it happens, authors are usually cited within a small group of people. Thus, if you are the second person to make such a remark, it is very likely to be read by somebody who already read the first instance and will not appreciate it anymore. In particular, the poor Mr. He is very likely to read all of these remarks. (Moreover, He is a rather common name, my workgroup’s citation database contains works from four different persons with that name.) – Wrzlprmft Apr 8 '15 at 11:24
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    And to add to @Wrzlprmft comment, when you base your work on someone else's, it is not uncommon that they will be chosen as referees. And you don't want to joke about a potential referee, especially if they might have experienced that kind of humour innumerable times since their childhood. – Massimo Ortolano Apr 8 '15 at 13:48
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    Yeah, I think Abbott and Costello kind of closed the book on jokes of this kind. (If necessary, search YouTube for "Who's On First".) – Nate Eldredge Apr 8 '15 at 17:43

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