“Why is LaTeX doing all the APA citations wrong?”

Over the years I get emails asking the above question, especially in thesis templates where the university requires the APA citation and referencing style, which I usually implement with


Alternatively biblatex can also be used:


“If LaTeX is so great, why is it making all the APA citations wrong? It should always be (Author1, et al., 2012), but it keeps giving me (Author1, Author2, & Author 3, 2012) when I cite this entry. Should I stop using LaTeX?”

Riiight. Is apacite really doing things wrongly? First let’s see what the APA6 guidelines say about citations:

the first in-text citation for a work with three to five
includes all of the names of the authors/editors, subsequent citations include only the first author’s/editor’s surname, followed by et al. and the year.

So the first time you cite a source with 3 ≤ # of authors ≤ 5, it should come out as (Author1, Author2, & Author 3, 2012). It’ll only come out as (Author1, et al., 2012) if you cite it again later. The apacite and biblatex-apa packages both do exactly this.

Incidentally if it does come out as (Author1 et al, 2012) the first time you cite it: are there are 6 authors or more for this source? Then yes, this is correct; this is exactly what the APA6 guidelines say to do with such sources. But if this source has 3 ≤ # of authors ≤ 5 and the first citation in your thesis (it’s there on page 1 of Chapter!) is still the abbreviated version (Author1 et al, 2012), then the most likely reason is that the true “first citation” has already appeared somewhere in the Table of Contents, List of Figures, or List of Tables, via a \section etc or a \caption!

In this case I’d recommend that you use an optional argument with your sectional heading or caption, which will be used in the table of contents and lists of figures/tables:

\section[The Old Approach]{The Old Approach \citep{Smith:etal:1982}}
\caption[Old Model]{Old Model \citep{Smith:etal:1982}}

So that the list entries in the front matter will not have citations; but the sectional headings and captions in the main text do.

But there is another scenario: not-quite twins, i.e. they are actually authored by different teams of authors even though the first author is the same person; or even if same group of authors, but in a different order.

[H]ow to cite multiple articles by the same authors that were published in the same year so that everyone can easily tell them apart. […] [L]owercase letters are added after the year (2011a, 2011b, etc.), and the references are alphabetized by title to determine which is “a” and which is “b.” […]

However, be careful that your references are true identical twins. That is, the method described above applies only when all author names are the same and appear in the same order. If any of the names or the order is different, then the references are distinguished in a different way: by spelling out as many author names as necessary to tell them apart.

For example: The first source by Adam Smith, Mark Jones, Paul Stark, Someone Blah, 1982 (I ran out of ideas for names)
and the second source by Adam Smith, Foo Bar, Hiya Hill, Mary Doe, 1982

In cases like this, even on subsequent citations, they cannot both be shortened to (Smith, et al., 1982a) and (Smith, et al., 1982b), because that may be ambiguous, implying that both papers are written by the exact  same team of authors in 1982. Instead, they would be cited as (Smith, Jones, et al., 1982) and (Smith, Bar, et al.,1982). Again, this is what apacite and biblatex-apa do.

“But the IPS/Graduate Office/my supervisor insist that all the citations must be shortened to (Author1, et al., 1982) everywhere, otherwise I am not allowed to submit my thesis!”

Yeah, that’s what’s most crucial, isn’t it… There is a way to get a “half-compliant” APA citation scheme. You can either use the \shortcite command provided by the apacite package (thanks to Stefan for reminding me about this in the comments!), or use the apalike bibliography style instead:


But never say apacite is doing it wrong—it’s actually doing its job very nicely; but certain Graduate Offices and supervisors don’t want the full APA format!

Lest we forget: Typography & LaTeX

Martins Bruveris recently gave an introductory lecture on LaTeX at Brunel University, and the deck was based on my previous LaTeX: More Than Just Academic Papers and Theses slides. (Suffice to say that I’m extremely happy that people are still reading it since I first made it in 2011—I’ve since updated it a bit.)

I particularly like how Martins highlighted how important typography is in retaining the readers’ (ahem supervisors, examiners, reviewers…) interest/attention. That’s so true—I remain certain that I received an award for my paper at a student workshop, partly (or perhaps majorly) because I used LaTeX. One of the panels commented “it’s a very clear, very nice paper—not sure why but it was just very enjoyable to read.”

"Your paper makes no sense, but it's the most beautiful thing I have ever laid eyes on."
Image courtesy of somethingofthatilk

Lest we’ve forgotten at times amid all the exciting new packages in recent years that let us do various cool things in LaTeX, typography is why Knuth created TeX in the beginning, and why some (I’ll acknowledge not all) users prefer LaTeX over word processors. Martins included this quote on typography in his slides:

Typography matters because it helps conserve the most valuable resource you have as a writer—reader attention.
Attention is the reader’s gift to you. That gift is precious. It is finite. And if you fail to be a respectful steward of that gift, it will be revoked.
(Matthew Butterick, Typography for Lawyers)

I would add this quote by Robert Bringhurst in the opening chapter to The Elements of Typographic Style:

Like oratory, music, dance, calligraphy—like anything that lends its grace to language—typography is an art that can be deliberately misused. It is a craft by which the meanings of a text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honored and shared, or knowingly disguised.

and later in Chapter 10:

Writing begins with the making of meaningful marks. That is to say, leaving the traces of meaningful gestures. Typography begins with arranging meaningful marks that are already made. In that respect, the practice of typography is like playing the piano—an instrument quite different from the human voice.

And personally, I do think writings convey the experience knowledge of humankind (I know that sounds a bit pompous, spare me the rod), and deserve to be typeset with ultimate quality for an enjoyable reading experience!

My customised CurVe CV

Thumbnail image of the CVI’ve been asked a few times for the code of my own CV.

Truth is, it was first done many, many years ago, based on the CurVe class. As I picked up tips and tricks, I kept adding and modifying the formatting styles—but I never got round to cleaning it up properly. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to have to read or use the messy code as it was *shudder*.

I got asked about it again recently, and I’m finally got round to simplify the thing and put it online on Overleaf (so that other users won’t get back to me with “but I don’t have this package” issues either! 😉)

It’s really still a bit rough in places, though…

To download it, click on the great big “Open as Template” button. If you don’t see a file list, click on “PROJECT” at the top first. Then go for the “Download as .zip” button at the bottom of the file list.