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Quick Takeaways:

• 'et al.' means 'and others'.
• Use 'et al.' to cite works with three or more authors.
• The presentation (et al., et al., or rarely et al) depends on the style guide or journal guidelines (see our comparison table).

The English language has a rich history of borrowing words from other languages, especially from Latin. Latin abbreviations such as 'a.m.', 'p.m.' and 'CV' have become part of our everyday vocabulary. Such abbreviations are also frequently used in academic writing, from the 'Ph.D.' in the affiliation section to the 'i.e.', 'e.g.',  'et al.', and 'QED' in the rest of the paper.

This guide explains when and how to correctly use 'et al.' in a research paper.

Meaning of 'et al.'

Correctly using 'et al.' becomes easy once you understand what 'et al.' means.

'et al.' is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase 'et alii' (masculine), 'et aliae' (feminine), and 'et alia' (neuter), all of which mean 'and others'. In the context of an academic paper, 'et al.' is better understood as 'and colleagues' or 'and co-authors', instead of its literal meaning.

Because the second word (alia) is abbreviated, a period is used at the end of 'et al.'

Quick Aside: Wondering why some abbreviations such as 'et al.' and 'e.g.' use periods, whereas others such as CV and AD don't? Periods are typically used if the abbreviations include lowercase or mixed-case letters. They're usually not used with abbreviations containing only uppercase letters.

When and how to use 'et al.'

In academic papers, 'et al.' is used to cite works of any kind (papers, books, chapters, etc.) with at least three authors.

For example,

According to Barth, Caprio and Levine (2008a), high regulatory restrictions on banking activities could mean fewer diversification opportunities for banks.*

can also be written as

According to Barth et al. (2008a), high regulatory restrictions on banking activities could mean fewer diversification opportunities for banks.

Similarly, 'et al.' can also be used in parenthetical citations:

The literature […] documents a positive effect of finance on growth in cross-country regressions (see, Levine, 1999; Beck, Levine, and Loayza, 2000; Wurgler, 2000; Bekaert, Harvey, and Lundblad 2005).

can be simplified to

The literature […] documents a positive effect of finance on growth in cross-country regressions (see, Levine, 1999; Beck et al., 2000; Wurgler, 2000; Bekaert et al., 2005).

By using 'et al.', you avoid having to write all the authors' names each time you cite a paper, which can make your paper wordy and difficult to read.

Instead, all or most of the authors are named in the list of references at the end of your paper, where the use of 'et al.' is less common.

Quick Aside: 'et al.' to the rescue! Without 'et al.', you'd need several pages to cite the paper with the most number of authors.

What we've discussed thus far is the most common way 'et al.' is used. There are, however, slight differences, in how 'et al.' is presented in different disciplines and style guides. The differences primarily lie in the following:

● Number of authors a work must have before you can use 'et al.'
● Whether 'et al.' is italicized (et al.)
● Whether 'et al.' can be used right from the first time a paper is cited or only from the second time onward

Below is a table that summarizes how to use 'et al.' in the most widely used guides.

Table: Correct use of 'et al.' by style guide

Remember, consistency is key in matters of style in academic writing. If you're unsure or undecided on which style or journal guidelines to follow, we recommend that you apply the most common style, 'et al.', consistently.

Style (Discipline) In-text citation In-text usage notes End-list usage notes

ACM (computing)

ASCE (civil engineering)

et al. Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. 'et al.' is not used. List all authors.
ACS (chemistry) et al. Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. Journal-specific. Some ACS publications list only the first 10 authors followed by a semicolon (;) and then 'et al.'
AMA (medicine) et al Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. Note italicization and the absence of the period. When there are seven or more authors, list the first three authors and then use 'et al.' (no italics; note the use of the period)
APA 6th edition (psychology) et al.

Use with six or more authors right from the first instance.

For three, four, or five authors, list all names at the first instance, and use 'et al.' from the second instance onwards.

'et al.' is not used. Ellipses (…) are used when there are more than seven authors. Details.
APA 7th and later editions (psychology) et al. Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. 'et al.' is not used. Ellipses (…) are used when there are more than seven authors. Details.
AiChE/CEP (chemical engineering) et al. Using author names in the main paper is discouraged. Use “Ref. x" instead. Use et al. with three or more authors.
Chicago (business, fine arts, history, etc.) et al. Use with four or more authors right from the first instance. Note italicization. See the “Journal Article" section in this Chicago resource for detailed end-list referencing notes.
IEEE (electrical and electronics engineering) et al. Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. When there are seven or more authors, list the first three authors and then use 'et al.'
MLA (language and literature) et al. Use with three or more authors right from the first instance. Use et al. with three or more authors.

The information in the table above is accurate as of 24 March 2021.

Unusual scenarios

In the vast majority of instances, using 'et al.' is rather straightforward, as we've seen so far. Occasionally, though, you'll encounter situations in which using 'et al.' may be confusing. Here's a couple of such situations and how best to address them.

Multiple papers by the same first author in the same year

If you're citing several works from the same first author, the year of publication is sufficient to distinguish between the papers. For example,

We compile data from the following sources: […] (c) the country-year level data on bank regulation and supervision are compiled from Barth et al. (2004) and Barth et al. (2013).

But what if the same first author has produced multiple works in the same year? In that case, you can use letters to distinguish between the papers, as in this hypothetical example:

We compile data from the following sources: […] (c) the country-year level data on bank regulation and supervision are compiled from Barth et al. (2004a), Barth et al. (2004b), and Barth et al. (2004c).

Possessive form of 'et al.'

The possessive form of 'et al.' is et al.'s (or et al's, depending on the style).

We compile data from Barth et al.'s (2004) survey.

Depending on your sentence structure and the complexity of the sentence, the possessive form may be awkward or confusing. If possible, rewrite to avoid it, as the editors at AsiaEdit always do.

'et al.' alternatives

and colleagues
If you're looking for an alternative to 'et al.', some journals and style guides allow the use of 'and colleagues'. For example, see the use of 'Fauci and Colleagues' in this AMA Style Insider blog post.

etc.
etc. or et cetera is NOT a valid alternative for 'et al.', because 'et al.' is used to refer to people and etc. to things.

Any questions?

Did we miss any popular styles? Would you like to know the correct way to use 'et al.' in any other style guide or journal? Feel free to ask us in the comments section below, or email us with your questions at resources@asiaedit.com.

Good luck with with your next paper. Verba volant, scripta manent, after all.

*All example sentences in this article are from the following open-access paper:
Ahamed, M. Mostak, Shirley J. Ho, Sushanta K. Mallick, and Roman Matousek. “Inclusive banking, financial regulation and bank performance: Cross-country evidence." Journal of Banking & Finance 124 (2021): 106055. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbankfin.2021.106055

Author Profile

Mr Felix Sebastian
Operations Specialist
Felix is a BELS-certified academic editor with a decade of experience in editorial operations and management. He is passionate about science communication and takes pride in helping researchers disseminate their work. Felix has been with AsiaEdit since May 2020.

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