When analyzing a piece of writing, I was taught to refer to claims made by using the author's last name. For example if Donald Duck wrote the book "How to Build Boats" and I was analyzing it, I would write "According to Duck, a hammer and nails is necessary for building a boat". What if there is more than one author and it's not clear which is responsible for any given sentence? How would then?

Also how would parenthetical references look? For example if the book was written by Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse and I wanted to quote "boats need water to float" would it look like this:

As has been observed countless times "boats need water to float" and this would be problematic in dry desserts (Duck, Mouse).

I was also taught it's bad to refer to "the paper" or the book itself since technically it's an inanimate object that is not making the claim, the authors are. For example it's bad to say

The book argues water is necessary for a boat to float

Come to think of it I guess the rule in context dependent, for example in an instruction manual wouldn't you say "the book explains how to assemble the chair" but in an analysis of the film Blade Runner you would say "Thomson argues that the character Roy Batty has a general disrespects for eyes" instead of "The paper argues that the character Roy Batty has a general disrespect for eyes"?

  • I have seen instances with only the first author/"corresponding" author cited, the first author with et al., and most conveniently a reference number [1]. Each may have its merits and different style guides may recommend differently.
    – Kris
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 5:54
  • For one or two authors, state their surnames - Duck, or Duck and Mouse; For more authors, it's Duck et al. In a more formal setting, you would need to consult one of the competing style guides, for example The Chicago Manual of Style (if I remember rightly).
    – user63230
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 6:19

1 Answer 1


As has been observed... Duck D. and M. Mouse; Boats Need Water to Float (New York 2009), p.87.

That would most likely be given by way of footnote in most academic papers. It is known as 'The Oxford System'. There is a Harvard System which sets out the same information slightly differently. Neither system quotes the name of the publisher, only the city and year of publication.

It is not a mistake on my part to have written 'Duck D. and M. Mouse'. With the first author quoted the forename (s) or initials follow the surname, with subsequent ones they appear in front!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.