In-text citation shows "multiple authors et al."

I use Zotero's plugin for Word 2011 for Mac and frequently come across the following issue:

No matter what citation style is set for the document, Zotero will sometimes (with no apparent pattern) cite papers with multiple authors followed by "et al." in text. Sometimes it lists two, and sometimes three; regardless it looks bizarre and is not a standard format in any field I know.

As an example, if I have a paper:

Smith, A., Grant, B., Chen, C., Holder, D. (2016). "Are PhDs really worth it?"

Zotero will sometimes format in-text citations as follows:

Some people believe PhDs are not worthwhile (Smith, Grant, Chen, et al., 2016).

Zotero does this seemingly at random, but consistently with the same papers (i.e. if I delete this sentence and re-type it, the in-text citation will look the same). Obviously, in the case above, the appropriate in-text citation would just be "Smith et al., 2016".

Does anyone know how to fix this systematically? Manually editing Zotero in-text citations creates a mess of problems and often reverts to the old format.
  • This depends somewhat on the citation style. There's nothing inherently incorrect about (Smith, Grant, Chen, et al., 2016). But I'm assuming the style you're using (which?) generally uses et al. after the first author. Then, the most common cause of this is to disambiguate between different citations, e.g. if you have

    Smith, A., Grant, B., Chen, C., Holder, D. (2016). and
    Smith, A., Grant, B., Meyer, C., Mueller, D. (2016).

    Then Smith et al., 2016 is ambiguous. It's a common rule in style manuals (e.g. APA) to add authors to in text citations to disambiguate. If you're sure that's incorrect for the journal in question (and you nees Smith et al. 2016a and 2016b instead), we'd need some evidence for that (note from editor, sample from recenly published article) and we can fix it.
  • Good point. I understand it's a style recommendation to extend the list of authors to reduce ambiguity where it might be present, but I don't know if I've ever seen in a scientific journal. Many top-tier journals use endnotes, and the rest use the system you mentioned of Smith et al. 2016a or 2016b (see a couple papers cited below that are written in this format - real papers this time!)

    So then I guess the question has two parts. First, in cases of ambiguity where multiple papers exist with the same first author and year, do any of the default citation styles in the Zotero plug-in use the citation format of (Smith et al. 2016a) rather than the extended in-text citation that @adamsmith described?

    And second, in situations where Zotero lists multiple authors in the in-text citation but the attribution is unambiguous and there is only one paper in the document by that author, is that just a bug with the particular reference file?

    Alheit, Jürgen, Thomas Pohlmann, Michele Casini, Wulf Greve, Rosemarie Hinrichs, Moritz Mathis, Kieran O’Driscoll, Ralf Vorberg, and Carola Wagner. 2012. “Climate Variability Drives Anchovies and Sardines into the North and Baltic Seas.” Progress in Oceanography 96 (1): 128–39. doi:10.1016/j.pocean.2011.11.015.

    Dulvy, Nicholas K., Stuart I. Rogers, Simon Jennings, Vanessa Stelzenmller, Stephen R. Dye, and Hein R. Skjoldal. 2008. “Climate Change and Deepening of the North Sea Fish Assemblage: A Biotic Indicator of Warming Seas.” Journal of Applied Ecology 45 (4): 1029–39. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01488.x.
  • To elaborate on the second situation described in the above comment - in this document, I am citing both of these papers:

    Couce, Elena, Andy Ridgwell, and Erica J. Hendy. 2012. “Environmental Controls on the Global Distribution of Shallow-Water Coral Reefs.” Journal of Biogeography 39 (8): 1508–23. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2012.02706.x.
    Couce, Elena, Andy Ridgwell, and Erica J Hendy. 2013. “Future Habitat Suitability for Coral Reef Ecosystems under Global Warming and Ocean Acidification.” Global Change Biology 19 (12): 3592–3606. doi:10.1111/gcb.12335.

    The in-text citations are formatted as (Couce, Ridgwell, & Hendy, 201X), in both cases. However, this is not a case of ambiguity since the papers were published in different years - so both in-text citations should be formatted as (Couce et al., 201X).
  • 1. yes, Elsevier Harvard doesn't do this, for example.

    2. If this happens in other cases, it's pretty unlikely to be a bug. This stuff gets tested pretty thoroughly. The first thing to try would then be to insert the same item in an empty document. If you do get a correct citation, you're likely just overlooking something in the original doc. If it looks wrong there, too, there might be a problem with the item data in Zotero, so double check that.
  • For your example -- this looks like Chicago author-date. That style just lists up to three authors before going to et al. rather than the up to two authors that's probably more common.
  • Okay, awesome. I'll start working in Elsevier Harvard and go back to the reference data for the ones that don't show up correctly. Thank you!
  • I too am having a similar problem when no ambiguity exists and with some being listed as et al and others with all authors listed. Oddly, when I recreate a citation with multiple authors zotero will insert correctly using et al; however, when I go to recreate the next citation which has all authors listed it changes the prior fixed one back to listing all authors.
  • we'd want a) the citation style and b) some examples.
  • Actually, I have found out that this kind of "bug" occurs when Zotero bibliography has been changed after a first citation. E.g. citing once, then deleting this reference in the bibliography data base, then importing the same citation from other source, then citing another time in text. Looks like if Zotero was keeping the first citation in text, hence trying to disambiguate the new one, with multiple authors.
    The way to get out of this is:
    - to delete all duplicated citations in the Zotero database (for safety)
    - to delete all citations of this reference in the text of the manuscript
    - to reinsert the citation at each relevant place making sure to cite the same citation of the Zotero database
  • @pgiraudoux: Yes, that's documented on the Given Name Disambiguation page.
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