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I want to cite a paper that has a lot of authors. The list of authors take up half a page in my reference list, and considering the prospect of paying for extra pages, I would like to shorten it, if possible. Is is okay to shorten the author list? If so, how many authors should be included?

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    Use a reference manager and let it figure it out for you based on your chosen/required citation style :)
    – tonysdg
    Jun 17, 2016 at 4:23
  • @tonysdg: I'm using the AIP LaTeX class revtex4-1, which includes a bibliography style -- still includes all the authors...
    – Arnfinn
    Jun 17, 2016 at 4:27
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    Some citation styles demand full list, some use Smith, J. et.al. for 3 and more authors, some for 5 authors. In some styles you refer a paper just by journal abbreviation, volume, pages and year.
    – Crowley
    Jun 17, 2016 at 10:07
  • @Arnfinn I'd look for the answer here: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/121625/…
    – Crowley
    Jun 17, 2016 at 10:10
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    The answers all suggest you should follow some predefined style. But if you had a style guide to follow, why would you be unsure about what to do? In my field, most journals don't bother to follow any widespread format, but just define their own house style. And since they fail to come up with examples for every conceivable possibility, they normally just end up accepting anything more or less corresponding to their proposed format. If your journal of choice doesn't make any explicit stipulations, just do whatever you want. The worst that can happen is that a sub-editor asks you to change it. Jun 18, 2016 at 0:56

3 Answers 3

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Every citation style has some threshold at which it is OK to change a long list into an "et al." citation ("et al." is an abbreviation of the Latin "et alia" meaning "and others"). The particular threshold depends on the citation style, but if you've got half a page of authors it's certainly over any reasonable threshold.

You then simply convert your citation of, e.g.:

A, B, C, E, ... , Z, "Massive Joint Study," Journal of Big Science, 1(4), 2012.

into:

A, et al., "Massive Joint Study," Journal of Big Science, 1(4), 2012.

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    Tangentially "alia" is the neuter form and it may be considered uncommon in reference to persons, "alii" and "aliae" are male and female, respectively. Yet "et al." abbreviates all three,so that's convenient and always right.
    – quid
    Jun 17, 2016 at 18:16
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As mentioned by @jakebeal, the correct approach is dependent on your citation style. Here is an example of 6th Edition APA Style.

Quoting the following post from the official APA style blog, the following rule applies to articles with more than 7 authors:

The first six authors are listed; all subsequent authors except the last are omitted and replaced with an ellipsis; and then the name of the last author is listed. Here’s an example of the new reference list style, for a study with 87 authors (yes, 87!):

Terracciano, A., Abdel-Khalek, A. M., Adam, N., Adamovova, L., Ahn, C., Ahn, H., . . . McCrae, R. R. (2005, October 7). National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures. Science, 310, 96–100. doi:10.1126/science.1117199

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  • I am not sure this guideline is adequate here: the given paper lists the authors alphabetically, so being last (or first) author has no special meaning. Jun 17, 2016 at 8:36
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    This is how it is supposed to go in the reference for APA 6th edition. In the citation, it would just be Terracciano et al. 2005
    – virmaior
    Jun 17, 2016 at 9:10
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    @BenoîtKloeckner I'm not aware of citation styles which differentiate between author ordering conventions. In any case the main benefit to authors comes from 1) Being an author on the paper 2) having their paper cited. It doesn't come from having their name mentioned in someone else's bibliography. So I don't think it is an issue.
    – user24098
    Jun 17, 2016 at 9:35
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    @dan1111 The first author of an alphabetically ordered paper with lots of authors does actually get quite a bit more recognition. If you're the nth author of the paper that everybody in your field knows as "Aardvark et al.", you don't get nearly as much credit in people's minds as Prof Aardvark does. Jun 17, 2016 at 10:10
  • Likewise, the last author has a special meaning in several institutions - it may be the institution's director for example, who perhaps didn't actively participate in the research, but supplied the lab and access to funding.
    – ObscureOwl
    Nov 29, 2019 at 16:54
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You should follow a style guide. If your editor, instructor, etc. didn't tell you what style to use, pick one. In this case pick one that doesn't insist on full author lists.

When in doubt I use the Physical Review style. On page 7 of the linked guide you'll find the example for a listing a large collaboration of authors:

J. M. Smith et al. (XYZ Collaboration), Phys. Rev. D 46, 1 (1992).

For the paper you link it would be:

B. P. Abbott et al. (The LIGO Scientific Collaboration), Rep. Prog. Phys. 72 (2009).

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