In the paper I am currently writing I cite works by Bill Smith and Fred Smith.

I refer to them both several times, as several of Bill Smith’s papers provide the basis for some of the techniques I am using, and Fred Smith’s work provides origin for the dataset I am using. This dataset is commonly called The Smith Corpus.

Currently my paper has a paragraph (boldface mine):

We use the Smith Corpus (Smith 2010), as prepared by Johnson et al (2015).
This corpus is partitioned into test, development and training subsets, and has minor clean-up from the original data collected by Smith (2010).
It is also used by Smith et al (2016) and Otter et al (2016).

Where the all uses of Smith, except the last refer to Fred Smith. Only Smith et al (2016) refers to Bill Smith.

Anyone who checks the references section will realize that these are different people. But the citation style I am using, is a surname–year style. So on a casual reading, one might expect the dataset in question to have been introduced in one of Bill Smith’s papers. However, this is incorrect: It is first used in this area by a third author, John Johnson (whom I also cite), then later by Bill Smith, and Sam Otter.

Bill Smith he refers to the corpus as the Smith Corpus in his paper – without qualification in any way.

Is there anything I should be doing about this possible confusion?
Or can I trust the reader to check the reference list if they want the details on who actually did what?

The ~5 page style guide for this conference says

Citations: Citations within the text appear in parentheses as (Gusfield, 1997) or, if the author’s name appears in the text itself, as Gus- field (1997). Using the provided LATEX style, the former is accomplished using \cite and the latter with \shortcite or \newcite. Collapse multiple citations as in (Gusfield, 1997; Aho and Ullman, 1972); this is accomplished with the provided style using commas within the \cite command, e.g., \cite{Gusfield:97,Aho:72}. Append lowercase letters to the year in cases of ambiguities. Treat double authors as in (Aho and Ullman, 1972), but write as in (Chandra et al., 1981) when more than two authors are involved.
We will reject without review any papers that do not follow the official style guidelines, anonymity conditions and page limits.

This level of guidance is typical for CS conferences in my field.

While I can of-course decide to make up my own rules for what to do in this case that is not covered clearly by their style guide -- and they probably won't desk-reject for it -- what additional rules should I use (if any)?

  • 15
    Don't be held back by the style you're using. Clarity first, consistent adherence to "the style" second. Also, do you know the trick, after mentioning A Flowers, when you then mention B Flowers, you can say "(no relation to A Flowers)"? Jun 23, 2017 at 5:30
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    I can't with 100% confidence say that they are not related: It would be perfectly reasonable if say Bill was a nephew of Fred's, and was inspired to work in this related area because of the cool features he saw in his uncles data. Jun 23, 2017 at 5:42
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    Just add first initials, either to both authors or just to the one who only appears once. Jun 23, 2017 at 6:41
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    @NoahSnyder with that I have 3 concerns. 1.) The name Smith Corpus is used in other works, calling it the F Smith Corpus would be confusing. 2.) I have no idea if this is even possible with BibTeX+natbib, 3.) This would put me in violation of the style guide. (Minor as aparente001 says.) Jun 23, 2017 at 7:06
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    @aparente001 Don't write "no relation to A Flowers". You almost certainly don't know that they're not related but, even if you did, familial relationships between cited authors are completely irrelevant to an academic paper. Jun 24, 2017 at 9:04

3 Answers 3


Check your style guide. Many surname-year styles, such as APA, have provisions for exactly this problem.

But do you know how to proceed when a reference list includes publications by two or more different primary authors with the same surname? When this occurs, include the lead author’s initials in all text citations, even if the year of publication differs (see the sixth edition of the Publication Manual, p. 176). Including the initials helps the reader avoid confusion within the text and locate the entry in the reference list.


In your case, this would lead to:

We use the Smith corpus (F. Smith 2010), as prepared by Johnson et al. (2015). This corpus is partitioned into test, development and training subsets, and has minor clean-up from the original data collected by F. Smith (2010).

It is also uses by B. Smith et al (2016), and Otter et al (2016).

Note that since "Smith corpus" is a name of a corpus, rather than a citation, it can remain without the initial.

Also note that in APA style, all citations to any Smith papers have to have the initial. So even if this is the only time you mention B. Smith et al 2016, all of your references to F. Smith 2010 have to have the initial. This is a little annoying but nicely unambiguous.

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    Following the rules as described in the style guide is the only correct approach. Also, your reference manager should handle all of this for you and, if it doesn't, get a new one. Jun 23, 2017 at 12:22
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    @Lyndon: if there's no style guide, you're not violating it by putting initials in front of people's names. Conferences that publish completely inadequate style guides that don't say what to do in the less probable cases should expect people to make exceptions. The Chicago Manual of Style is around 1000 pages long, and while that may be excessive, 5 pages is clearly inadequate. Jun 23, 2017 at 13:32
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    There is a style guide, in that there is a 5 page style guide, including things like "violation of this style guide will result in rejection without review". But there is no comprehensive Style Guide, in the mode of the APA, or Chicago Manual of Style Jun 23, 2017 at 13:35
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    @LyndonWhite They're not going to desk-reject your paper just because you put initials in a citation: they won't even notice. Desk-rejections are for flagrant breaches, such as using a noticeably smaller font and/or noticeably narrower margins to cram more text into the page limit. Jun 24, 2017 at 9:07
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    @DavidRicherby you are correct, I'm sure. More my point was that this answer is of limitted help to me, since my style guide says nothing. (I guess though I could just go with the Chicago Manual of Style.) Jun 24, 2017 at 10:39

I would go with:

We use the Smith Corpus (Smith 2010), as prepared by Johnson et al (2015). This corpus is partitioned into test, development and training subsets, and has minor clean-up from the original data collected by Fred Smith (2010). It is also uses by Bill Smith et al (2016), and Otter et al (2016).

'Smith Corpus' is the name of a dataset, not a person, and is to be found in the paper referenced as 'Smith 2010'. The other two instances of 'Smith' are names, not references. The reference is in brackets afterwards, and is made up of just a date because the name part of the reference is not required when the authors have just been named in the sentence.

If this feels a bit too odd, you could add in 'Sam'.

  • And then in all other reference to Bill Smith's paper, refer to it as Smith et al (2016)? Jun 23, 2017 at 7:41
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    @LyndonWhite Yeah, probably. The reader should be aware now that it's two different authors, of they care. But I think you could alternatively get away with 'F. Smith' and 'B. Smith' if you wanted.
    – Jessica B
    Jun 23, 2017 at 8:20
  • In at least some fields initials are preferred to names, perhaps because this hides gender and may hide other cultural signals. If your style guide provides no guidance use the form most common in your field.
    – arp
    May 22, 2018 at 4:06

The way to handle this is to refer to F. Smith and B. Smith explicitly in the text. The editors will probably not like it but you can point out to them that adding the first initial removes any confusion about which author you are referring to.

I had so deal with a similar situation many years ago, and after clarifications the editors let me use the first initials (indeed I used both the first and the middle initial) even if it was against the "house rules".

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