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How to Use the Term ‘Et Al.’

How to Use the Term ‘Et Al.’

When citing books in academic writing, you can often use the term ‘et al.’ to indicate ‘and others’. This is to avoid having to write down all of a book’s authors each time you mention it. The term ‘et al.’ stands for ‘et alia‘, which is Latin for ‘and others’. In this post, we look at how this term should be used.

The Rules

The rules for citing sources depend on the system you’re using. But for the sake of demonstrating how ‘et al.’ works, we’ll use a generic parenthetical referencing style.

If a book you want to cite has one author, you should cite it with the author’s surname and a year of publication. For instance:

I am all alone (Smith, 1997).

If a book has two authors, cite it like this:

We’re together now. (Smith and Jones, 2000).

However, if a source has several authors (usually more than three or four), ‘et al.’ may be required. In Harvard referencing, for example, you should give all author names the first time you cite the source:

There are too many people here (Smith, Jones, and Ball, 2002).

Then, for subsequent citations of the same source, you can simply cite the first listed author and ‘et al.’:

It’s party time (Smith et al., 2002).

If a source has a lot of authors (e.g. more than seven), some systems recommend using ‘et al.’ for the first citation.

You DO NOT put a full stop after ‘et’, but you MUST put a full stop after ‘al.’

Finally, DO NOT italicise et al. Indeed, you DO NOT usually have to  italicise any commonly used Latin words or abbreviations (ibid., i.e., etc.).

Typically, all author names should be included in the reference list. But this may depend on the referencing system you’re using.

Of course, if you are not sure about any aspect of citation, referencing or academic writing, the best solution is to get your work professionally checked.

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