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October 07, 2010

Order in the Reference List! Or the Case of the Maddening Initials

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by Anne Breitenbach

It’s true confessions time: I copyedited APA journals for years and even taught APA Style to APA copy editors, and yet I’ve tripped over some really basic issues more times than I like to admit. One issue that has tied me in knots several times is how to order a reference list when there are authors with the same surname and almost the same initials. 

Let me show you an example of what I mean. Suppose you had the following citations arranged in this order in a reference list (they really don’t have DOIs and they were read from hard copy, so they don’t need to have the journal homepage URLs, though see these previous posts on when to use a DOI and when to use a URL):

  1.  Foorman, B. (2007). Primary prevention in classroom reading instruction. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(5), 24–30.
  2. Foorman, B. R. (1995). Research on the great debate: Code-oriented versus whole language approaches to reading. School Psychology Review, 24, 376–393.

 Is it in the right order? Maybe yes, maybe no. The correct order depends on whether B. Foorman and B. R. Foorman are actually the same person. Here’s what you need to consider:

• Rule 6.25 of the Publication Manual directs us to “arrange entries in alphabetical order by the surname of the first author followed by initials of the author’s given name.”


• We are also instructed to order several works by the same first author by year of publication, the earliest first.
• And works by different first authors with the same surname are ordered alphabetically by the first initial—in addition, citations in text should include initials with the surname of the first author to differentiate between the sources.

So our order depends on the identity of the mysterious Foorman(s). Are there two authors or one? If you don’t know, then you’ll have to research the issue (and keeping notes during the research process that include full names is an excellent idea, as that makes your job now much simpler). The logical first step is to go look at the research and see whether the reference is correct as given. However, if the initials have all been provided correctly, what other evidence is there that allows you to make an educated assessment of whether this is the same person? Are there complete first names provided in the byline or the author note? Is there an institutional affiliation or a history of publishing with the same people and on the same topic? Is there an email address that would allow you to ask directly? Can you find an article about the person or curriculum vitae that lists publications?
If on the basis of your research you are comfortably sure that these are the same person, reverse the order. The earlier reference should come first even though the initials aren’t exactly the same.
If your research directs you to the conclusion that you have two different authors, the order is correct as is, but you’ll need to remember to add the initials for each author when the reference is cited in text.
Should you have a publishing career yourself, please try to publish your manuscripts with the same format of your name throughout your career. Researchers and copy editors the world over will bless you.





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