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February 04, 2011

Et al.: When and How?

Paige-for-web-site 75x75 by Paige Jackson
This week, we continue on down the list of frequent APA Style stumbling blocks compiled by Dr. Anthony Onwuegbuzie and colleagues (Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010).  These authors contributed a recent guest post to our blog, and this is our third follow-up post on specific common errors.

Third on the list is the usage of et al.  Given the level of detail in these style rules, it’s no surprise that many find them challenging.  Here are three common errors:

1. Writers sometimes use the surname of the first author followed by et al. at the first mention of a work that has three, four, or five authors.  Only when a work has six or more authors should the first in-text citation consist of the first author followed by et al.  With five or fewer authors, all the author surnames should be spelled out at first mention.
2. Writers also make the opposite error by including all author surnames when et al. should be used instead.  Once an in-text citation has been mentioned one time, all subsequent citations to a work with three or more authors should consist of the surname of the first author followed by et al. 
3. Many writers use et al. correctly in terms of context but make italicization or punctuation errors.  I have italicized et al. in this post because it’s a linguistic example (see section 4.21, p. 105).  However, it should not be italicized when you are using it as part of a reference.  We also see et al without the period at the end.  Because et al. is short for et alii (Latin for “and others”), the second word is actually an abbreviation and as such takes a period.

See the APA Publication Manual, section 6.12 (p. 175) for a handy table illustrating this usage.

We hope this clears up some misconceptions.  Let us know if there are some we’ve missed.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Combs, J. P., Slate, J. R., & Frels, R. K.  (2010).  Editorial: Evidence-based guidelines for avoiding the most common APA errors in journal article submissions.  Research in the Schools, 16(2), ix–xxxvi.



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