How To Handle Author Names in APA Style
Although the documentation style of the American Psychological Association (APA) is widely used for research papers in the social sciences and other fields of study, it is far from the easiest of referencing systems to use effectively. Citing author names correctly in APA style can be especially tricky, so this article outlines with examples exactly how author names should be handled in both in-text citations and complete bibliographical references according to the sixth edition of the APA’s Publication Manual.

For in-text citations, usually only the surname of the author is required along with the date of the publication. This name can be given in the main text or in parentheses, as in ‘Smith (2013)’ or ‘(Smith, 2013).’ If two works published in the same year and written by different authors who share the same surname are cited, initials will be necessary to avoid confusion: ‘(M. Smith, 2013),’ for instance, versus ‘(O. Smith, 2013).’ A work with two authors is cited in the same way as a work with one: ‘Smith and Jones (2014)’ or ‘(Smith & Jones, 2014).’ Notice that an ampersand (&) replaces the word ‘and’ before the last name when the author names are given in parentheses.

When a document has three, four or five authors, all the surnames should be recorded when the source is first cited, but for subsequent citations of the same work, only the first author’s name along with ‘et al.’ is used. The first citation of a work with four authors would therefore take one of these forms: ‘Smith, Jones, Wilson and Johnson (2015)’ or ‘(Smith, Jones, Wilson & Johnson, 2015).’ All subsequent citations of the same source should appear thus: ‘Smith et al. (2015)’ or ‘(Smith et al., 2015).’ Further information is only necessary for subsequent citations if two references published in the same year shorten to exactly the same form. A reference to a 2015 study by Smith, Jones, Wilson and Johnson, for instance, would shorten to the same form as would a reference to a 2015 study by Smith, Jones, Ashfield, Wilson and Greenway, so as many author names as necessary to clarify which work is intended must be added: ‘Smith, Jones, Wilson, et al. (2015)’ for the one and ‘Smith, Jones, Ashfield, et al. (2015)’ for the other.

For in-text citations of a source with six or more authors, the first author’s name is provided along with ‘et al.’ for all citations: A work by Smith, Jones, Wilson, Johnson, Ashfield and Greenway would therefore be cited either as ‘Smith et al. (2016)’ or ‘(Smith et al., 2016).’ Again, additional names will be necessary when two or more references shorten to the same form, so if a 2016 article by Smith, Jones, Ashfield, Wilson, Johnson and Greenway were also cited, three author names would be necessary in each case to distinguish the two sources: ‘Smith, Jones, Wilson, et al. (2016)’ for the first and ‘Smith, Jones, Ashfield, et al. (2016)’ for the second.

In the list of references that appears at the end of a research document using APA style, initials are included along with surnames. The initials of each author should be placed after the author’s surname, as in ‘Smith, M., Jones, W., Wilson, S., & Johnson, N.’ This format is appropriate for up to seven authors; for works with eight or more authors, only the first six authors are listed, followed by an ellipsis (represented by three stops) and the name of the last author. This means that the author names for an article by Smith, Jones, Ashfield, Wilson, Johnson, Neilson, Rayburn and Greenway would take this form: ‘Smith, M., Jones, W., Ashfield, B., Wilson, S., Johnson, N., Neilson, R., . . . Greenway, P.’ To distinguish authors who share the same surnames and initials, first names can be added in square brackets, as in ‘Smith, M. [Mark]’ and ‘Smith, M. [Matthew].’

Each reference in an APA list of references should begin with the surname of the primary author, and the list is arranged alphabetically on the basis of these surnames. For works by the same author (or authors) the references should follow the chronological order of the publications, with ‘Smith, M. (2013)’ preceding ‘Smith, M. (2014).’ Works by the same primary author but with different additional authors should be ordered alphabetically based on the names that differ, so ‘Smith, M., & Jones, W.’ comes before ‘Smith, M., & Wilson, S.’ regardless of date of publication. Alphabetical order for APA references should generally be determined letter by letter, so ‘Smith, A.’ precedes ‘Smith, B.’ and ‘Mac’ precedes ‘Mc,’ but the principle of nothing preceding something also applies, meaning that ‘Smith, M.’ always comes before ‘Smith, M., & Jones, W.’ and ‘Johns, S.’ comes before ‘Johnson, N.’ even though ‘o’ precedes ‘S’ alphabetically speaking.