Unwanted initials in intext citations

When I put in an intext citation, it shows up with the author's first initial, as in:
(A. B. Smith-Jones, 2020)
There are several publications by the same author (all different years except one, which is with a co-author), and it started happening when the names were inconsistent between entries. However, I've been through and made them all consistent, and the initial is still present in the citation. Is there anything else that could be causing this, or a way to turn it off?
I'm using APA 7th, Zotero 6, and the word plugin.
  • If the names really are consistent, do note that it is correct APA style to include author initials like this if multiple different authors have the same last name (even non-first authors). Are you citing other Smith-Jones ?
  • I have the same problem. The author is always listed in Zotero the same way but is unnecessarily (anti APA 7 style) cited with initials. It is infuriating.
  • edited May 15, 2022
    Please calm your fury and carefully review the link about name disambiguation. It can be frustrating when this happens if one cannot immediately identify a problem with author names in their Zotero library. @conleycd If you will provide specific examples of author full names or initials in the context of your document, someone here can likely help you.


    Are you drawing from a group library or perhaps collaborating with someone else when working on your document?
  • To be clear, there are various possible causes on the linked page — it's not necessarily about the entered authors. If you're experiencing this, you'll need to check those various things to see which one is causing this for you. It's not a bug in Zotero, so there's nothing for us to fix.
  • And to repeat my comment above, it is correct APA style to include the initials when multiple cited authors share the same surname but are different people
  • It's unclear to me what the exact fix was that I did. I suspect that it was a "." period at the end of an initial after the Author's first name in some reference in the library.

    I was not clear if it was that I checked/fixed every library reference (even those not used in the paper) and corrected it as I could not find a differently spelled reference in the specific paper.

    It may be nice to have this feature optional. It is helpful if there are truly different authors with the same name; however, that rarely happens in a single paper on the same topic. There's also lots of automatic importing of articles where the author chooses to use a middle initial or not.
  • edited May 16, 2022
    Well, there might possibly be a plug-in some time in the future to allow easier identification of author names in need of unification in Zotero records. However, as of now this process must be done manually through one's knowledge of the literature and authorship.

    Zotero quite properly treats author names as different even when the only difference is a period after an initial. Some citation styles (APA, Chicago) require author name unity to the most complete version of each author's name even when the author has multiple articles under various levels of published name completeness. The author names Mary Ann Smith, Mary A. Smith, M.A. Smith, MA Smith, etc. should all be in your database as Mary Ann Smith (unless you also have an author who has the name Mary Alice Smith. Then you must use your knowledge to properly parse each MA Smith name.).

    I could go into detail about the difficulty of accomplishing making the correct decisions to unify (same subject areas, common co-authors, common institutions, etc.) and how to use statistical weighting to assist with the decision. However, even with a decision tool the process boils down to an informed choice of whether to unify an author's name.

    Reference and citation management processes have benefited greatly from computers over the past 50 years but some things cannot yet be automated. We have evolved from using index cards and a manual typewriter to the Zotero interfacing with word processing software to automatically insert citations and create a bibliography. I marvel at the changes in ease from the time of my early academic manuscripts.

    @conleycd your concern is based on the requirements of established standard citation styles and with Zotero enforcing those styles to the letter. You as curator of your Zotero record library must take care to edit each of your records to assure that Zotero will properly implement the style -- Zotero will do this precisely but only if care has been taken to have accurate records that fit the style requirements . Zotero will correctly use what is in each record but if the record metadata has flaws it will correctly place and format the imperfect metadata into your citations.
  • FWIW, it's fairly simple to modify citation styles to not disambiguate with initials: all you need to do is to delete disambiguate-add-givenname from the style and rename it (https://www.zotero.org/support/dev/citation_styles/style_editing_step-by-step )-- I don't think adding this as a preference makes sense given the potential for confusion, especially in troubleshooting.
  • edited May 16, 2022
    @adamsmith is right to point out the ease of removing the name disambiguation feature from APA or any other style. But I caution you not to do this. University professors can sometimes (quite wrongly, in my opinion) take considerations of reference style to extremes. This to the degree of marking down as much as two letter grades from what might otherwise be a "A" paper.

    After the change from APA 5 to version 6 several professors in different departments [at 2 major universities in my city] assigned papers with an APA 5 requirement. Students, reasonably assuming that this was one of many aspects not updated in the well-worn course syllabus, used APA 6. Each student received a lower grade because they used the wrong citation style. I became involved because I taught seminars on using Zotero and several of the students initially believed that the fault was with the software. Not only was this not resolved in the students' favor but one of those professors is still at the university and is still requiring APA 5 style and prohibits electronic sources.

    There is one other thing to consider about how a style is implemented in a manuscript. If there are inconsistencies in style, this is a clue to the possibility of copy-paste plagiarism. In the case of my own report assignments, I require Vancouver style. I do this because it is quite common in health research; because other professors assign APA or Chicago; and because with Zotero or Endnote the effort of using a less familiar style is trivial. (Especially because I don't deduct grade points for minor style flaws if I can identify the reference and the reference, indeed, supports the student's assertion.) That said, every single session for the past 5 or 6 years, I receive manuscripts that contain paragraphs with citations in APA or Chicago style that are not represented in the bibliography. (Other professors report a similar problem with APA papers containing paragraphs with numeric citations.) Not only are some students lazy but they seem to think that professors who grade their papers are equally lazy.
  • @conleycd, I believe this is not so much Zotero's fault—whether the feature is optional or not—but a wider systemic issue arising from how publishers decide to present authorial information, which later makes its way into your library. That's why you'll sometimes find the same author (e.g., Jayden M. Smith) listed on different publications as just "Jayden Smith," or even "J. Smith," or "J. M. Smith."

    I believe that, in APA Style (correct me if I'm wrong on this), the recommendation is that you, the person doing the citing, use the author's full name, where possible, even if the source itself doesn't give the full name. So, if the source just gives "J. Smith," and you know that that is referring to "Jayden M. Smith," you'd change it accordingly.

    Personally, I'm not comfortable with this; it places a burden on users to offset problems caused by inconsistencies that aren't their fault. But it's also not Zotero's fault, either; if you are importing content automatically, then Zotero can only do the best with what it's given. Occasionally, that may mean you need to examine your references closely for these inconsistencies in author information. It's a pain, largely because it involves piecing bits of information together from multiple sources to confirm that this "J. Smith" is the same as that "J. M. Smith," etc. But hopefully you don't have to do it too often and for many items.
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