6.3 Referring to Authors and Titles

Writing in academic and professional contexts often entails writing about or responding to the words and ideas of other authors and speakers. College writing is often a “dialogue” or conversation between students and their professors, so it is a good way to practice skills you will use in the workplace. Research conducted for courses generally builds on or reacts to the work of previous scholars. As student writers, you often use the works of published authors to support your arguments or provide a framework for your analysis. When you do this, you must cite and document your sources; you may also need to identify the author and title that you are referring to in the text. Here below are some basic conventions (rules) to follow when you refer to sources in the text.  For examples of References entries, please go to Citing and Documenting Sources.

Referring to Authors

(Citing Sources with More than One Author, 2021)

The first time that you mention the author, use the full name (but no titles, such as Mr. Ms, or Dr.). If there are more than three authors, use the Latin abbreviated term “et al.” to refer to additional authors. APA Style requires that you also include the publication date:

  • William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1601.
  • Sean Petty and Justin Trudeau (2008) argue that …
  • Ross Phillips et al. (2011) recommend that….

Every time you refer to the author after the first time, use the last name only. Never refer to the author by the first name (William or Will) only. Always use the last name:

  • Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most studied plays.
  • Petty and Trudeau (2008) go on to describe the effects of …
  • Phillips et al. (2011) suggest that….

Knowledge Check

Referring to Titles

When referring to titles, there are two distinct methods to indicate two types of works:

  1. APA Style requires that the titles of shorter works that are published within a larger work (an article in a newspaper, an academic article in a periodical, a chapter in a book) be noted using capitalization without quotation marks or italics in a list of References, but with quotation marks or italics when mentioned in the text. A larger, stand-alone work, like a book, is italicized in both cases. Titles of webpages are italicized. See examples below:
    • “The Case Against Bottled Water” is an editorial written by Justin Trudeau and Sean Petty, published in The Star, a Toronto newspaper (2008).
    • “People For Sale,” a magazine article published in The Utne Reader, is written by E. Benjamin Skinner (2008).
    • “Bottled Water: The Pure Commodity in the Age of Branding” is an academic journal article by Richard Wilk, published in the Journal of Consumer Culture (2006).
    • Reference Examples (2020) can be found on the APA Style website.
Tip:  Remember to always include the year of publication.
  1. When referring to titles of larger works, or works that have smaller articles published within them (books, newspapers, magazines, periodicals, movies, novels, etc.), use italics* except for website titles, which are capitalized only:
  • Trudeau and Petty’s 2008 article was published in The Star, a Toronto newspaper.
  • Skinner published his article in The Utne Reader, an alternative magazine.
  • Phillips et al. published their academic article, “Risk compensation and bicycle helmets,” in the academic journal, Risk Analysis (2011).
  • The APA offers examples of various formats for references on its APA Style website (2020).

* Note: Before computers, people underlined these kinds of italicized titles, as this was the only option available on a typewriter; however, underlining is “so 20th century” and is no longer done unless you are writing by hand.

Using these conventions helps the reader to know what kind of text you are writing about without you having to specify it. Like most specialized terminology or conventions, it offers a kind of short hand to avoid wordiness. If you do this incorrectly, you mislead and confuse the reader.

For example, if you are writing about William Blake’s poem, “The Lamb,” you must use quotation marks around the title.  If you don’t use them, and simply write — the lamb — then you are referring to the animal, not the poem. If you italicize The Lamb, you are telling the reader that this is the title of a book (which is incorrect).


Knowledge Check

Question for Review

Why is the following incorrect? What mistaken ideas does it give to the reader?

In The Case Against Bottled Water, Sean and Justin explain why bottled water is not as safe as tap water.


American Psychological Association (APA). (2020). References examples. APA Style. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/references/examples

Petty, S. & Trudeau, J. (2008, August 11).  The case against bottled water. The Star.  https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2008/08/11/the_case_against_bottled_water.html

Skinner, B. (2008, July/August). People for sale. Utne Reader.  https://www.utne.com/politics/people-for-sale

Wilk, R. (2006, November). Bottled water: The pure commodity in the age of branding. Journal of Consumer Culture. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540506068681

Phillips, R. W.,  Fyhyri, A., & Sagberg, F. (2011, August). “Risk compensation and bicycle helmets,” Risk Analysis, 31(8), pp. 1187-1195  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01589.x

Writing Rescue. (2021). Citing sources with more than one author in APA style, 7th edition [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9bSjEkmN3w


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Technical Writing Essentials Copyright © 2019 by Suzan Last is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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