A couple of weeks ago I wrote that in-text references are a ‘quick link’ to the reference list. ‘Et al.’ is simply a way of making your in-text reference more concise and unobtrusive. Where a source document has been written by many authors then you should replace all but the first author surname with ‘et al.’
John Smith, Sam Jones and Jane Green’s book published in 2008 is cited as ‘(Smith et al., 2008)’. The surname in the main text will always be what the source is listed alphabetically under at the end.
The term is Latin shorthand for ‘et alii’, ‘et aliae’ or ‘et alia’, all literally meaning ‘and the others’. The ending depends on the gender of the ‘others’ being referred to). As ‘et al.’ is a shortening, it is important to remember the full stop at the end of ‘al.’.
Once it comes to giving detailed information on the source in the reference list, ‘et al.’ should never be used. All authors of a paper, article or book must be listed at the end to identify the source precisely. It is also to acknowledge co-authorship and the importance of all contributors. So, ‘Smith, J., Jones, S., Green, J. and Brown, T. (2008) Harvard Referencing – All you Need to Know, Oxford: Oxford University Press.’