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13 Mar

‘Et al.’ – Correct Usage for Harvard Referencing


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the idea that in-text references are a ‘quick link’ to the sources given in the reference list at the end of your essay. ‘Et al.’ is simply a way of making your in-text reference more concise and unobtrusive. Where a source document has been written by more than two authors (some guidelines say more than three authors) then you should replace all but the first author surname with ‘et al.’

So, a book by John Smith, Sam Jones, Jane Green and Tom Brown published in 2008 would be listed in text as ‘(Smith et al., 2008)’. The surname listed in the main body of the text will then always be the surname under which the source is listed alphabetically at the end.

The term comes from Latin and is a shortening 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). Given that ‘et al.’ is a shortening it is important to remember the full stop at the end of ‘al.’ to indicate that.

Once it comes to giving detailed information on the source in the reference list, ‘et al.’ should never be used. All the authors of a paper, article or book must be listed at the end, both to identify the source precisely but also to acknowledge co-authorship and the importance of all contributors not just the one whose name comes first alphabetically! So, ‘Smith, J., Jones, S., Green, J. and Brown, T. (2008) Harvard Referencing – All you Need to Know, Oxford: Oxford University Press.’

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