When to Use Author Initials for Text Citations
by Tyler Krupa
You probably already know that references in APA Style are cited in text with an author–date system (e.g., Adams, 2012). 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. For example, let’s look at the following two references and their corresponding text citations.
Campbell, A., Muncer, M., & Gorman, B. (1993). Sex and social representations of aggression: A communal-agentic analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 19, 125–135. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/1098-2337(1993)19:2<125::AID-AB2480190205>3.0.CO;2-1
Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., & Brunell, A. B. (2005). Understanding the social costs of narcissism: The case of the tragedy of the commons. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1358–1368. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167205274855
First citation: Many studies (A. Campbell, Muncer, & Gorman, 1993; W. K. Campbell, Bush, & Brunell, 2005) have shown . . . .
Subsequent citations: Both A. Campbell et al. (1993) and W. K. Campbell et al. (2005) provided participants with . . . .
As you can see from the examples above, even though the year of publication differs in the two Campbell references, the lead author’s initials should be included in all text citations, regardless of how often they appear.
Although this rule seems straightforward, one thing that trips up some writers is how to proceed when different lead authors with the same surname are also listed in other references in which they are not the lead author. To help illustrate what should you do, let’s look at the earlier Campbell examples again, but now let’s add some additional references.
Brown, Y., & Campbell, W. K. (2004).
Campbell, A., Muncer, M., & Gorman, B. (1993).
Campbell, W. K., Bush, C. P., & Brunell, A. B. (2005).
Smith, L. N., Campbell, A., & Adams, K. (1992).
Although you may be tempted to include the initials every time the surname Campbell appears in the text citations, note that per APA Style, the initials should be included only when Campbell is the lead author. Therefore, initials should be used for only two of the above four references in the text citations.
First citation: Many studies (Brown & Campbell, 2004; A. Campbell, Muncer, & Gorman, 1993; W. K. Campbell, Bush, & Brunell, 2005; Smith, Campbell, & Adams, 1992) have shown that . . .
Subsequent citations: . . . as was done in previous studies (Brown & Campbell, 2004; A. Campbell et al., 1993; W. K. Campbell et al., 2005; Smith et al., 1992).
Another related item to note is that if the reference list includes different lead authors who share the same surname and first initial, you should provide the authors’ full first names in brackets (see the Publication Manual, p. 184).
Janet, P. [Paul]. (1876).
Janet, P. [Pierre]. (1906).
(Paul Janet, 1876; Pierre Janet, 1906)
We hope these examples clear up any points of possible uncertainty. Still have questions? Leave us a comment.