In the world of academic writing, you’ve likely come across the term et al. at some point. What exactly does it mean, where did it come from, and how should you use it?
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating history and usage of et al. to help you become a more confident and effective scholarly writer.
What Is “Et al.”?
Et al. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase et alia or et alii, which translates to and others or and colleagues. The use of Latin abbreviations in academic writing dates back to the Renaissance period when Latin was the lingua franca of scholars. Et al. became a shorthand way to indicate multiple authors without the need for lengthy lists.
In academic writing, it refers to a group of authors when citing a source. Essentially, it’s a convenient way to acknowledge all the contributors without listing each name individually, especially when there are several authors involved.
When to Use “Et al.”
Using et al. correctly is essential to maintaining clarity and professionalism in your writing. Nowadays, the main circumstance in which you’ll use it or come across it is in in-text citations.
Many referencing systems use et al. for in-text citations when listing more than a certain number of authors. Commonly, it’s used when there are more than two authors, but this depends on which system you’re following. In-text citations with et al. usually look something like this:
Turner et al. (2018) discussed the impact of technology on education.
The impact of technology on education has been widely discussed (Turner et al., 2018).
To Italicize or Not to Italicize
The question of whether to italicize et al. is one that often perplexes writers, as Latin terms are often given in italics. The general rule for et al., though, is that it should not be italicized.
Et al. has become an integral part of academic writing conventions, so like with other Latin phrases, such as et cetera (etc.) and id est (i.e.), we’ve dropped the italics over time.
Referencing Systems That Use “Et Al.”
Different referencing systems have their own guidelines for using et al. Here’s a brief overview of some of them:
APA (American Psychological Association)
In APA style, et al. is used for both in-text citations and reference list entries. When citing a source with three or more authors for the first time, include the first author’s name followed by et al. and the year:
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Brown et al. (2017) emphasizes the importance of preventative medicine…
Preventative medicine plays an important role (Brown et al., 2017)…
MLA (Modern Language Association)
Similarly, in the MLA style, et al. is used in in-text citations. If a source has three or more authors, include the first author’s name followed by et al. and the page number:
Johnson et al. argued for a policy change (327) …
A policy change was needed (Johnson et al. 327) …
Chicago Manual of Style
Chicago style allows for the use of et al. in both footnotes and the author-date style for sources with more than three authors. For in-text citations, if there are four or more authors, list the first author followed by et al.:
Spanish style architecture is popular in this area (Johnson et al. 2021) …
The same applies to Chicago footnotes:
1. Rachel Johnson et al., Architecture Styles (Miami: Classic Press, 2021).
Understanding how to use et al. with your referencing style is crucial to maintaining consistency and clarity in your academic writing. It streamlines references to sources with multiple authors and ensures your writing remains clear and concise. So, the next time you encounter multiple authors in your research, remember to embrace et al. as your ally in academic communication.
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How do you punctuate “et al.”?
Et al. should always have a period at the end of it. A comma is not needed after et al. in running text, but some referencing systems do require a comma after et al. if it’s in a parenthetical citation.