Most of us have spent time compiling reference lists for papers or longer documents, a task which used to be even more time-consuming before the Internet and TeX came along (all lists had to be typed and sometimes retyped). With increased international communication as well as pressure by funding agencies to do collaborative work, more multi-author papers are apparently being written now. For instance, recent VIGRE-supported algebra groups at the University of Georgia have been publishing papers with many authors. This morning's automatic mailing from arXiv (in subject areas of special interest to me, mostly close to math.RT) brought a prize-winner: 1009.4134. Are we looking at the future?

It's the result of an AIM conference, perhaps intended for formal publication but challenging in any event to those who might want to refer to it. Page 23 of the paper itself consists mostly of an author listing. Since the list of 28 authors goes from A to Z (Aguiar to Zabrocki), it would seem invidious to refer only to Aguiar et al. Of course, if electronic-only publishing ever becomes the universal rule in mathematics, placing a link like the one I just posted in a numbered reference list might be enough. (Provided the link is durable.)

Is there a reasonable way to refer to a 23 page article with 28 authors?

P.S. I'm not planning to cite this particular paper, but am in the process of assembling a reference list for other purposes and might also need to cite Georgia VIGRE group papers at some point. It's usually impossible in an alphabetical list of authors to identify the "leaders" or the people contributing the main ideas. Theoretical progress does require ideas, whereas experimental work often depends more heavily on organization, teamwork, and of course funding. (As an aside, if the current list of finite simple groups and the reasoning behind it are eventually accepted by all well-informed observers as correct, who will be cited for that theorem?)

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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I don't see anything wrong with "Aguiar et al." $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2010 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW my girlfriend is a doctor and is constantly dealing with papers with 20+ authors and always uses "et al". The difference is that in medecine the "lead author" is at the front! $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2010 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ This paper really shows that we need a Bourbaki collective for algebraic combinatorics... $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2010 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ The question I find more interesting is whether there is a reasonable way for 28 people to write a 23-page article. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2010 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ I heard the following story concerning "et al" from a librarian. She told me that a student (I think of medical sciences) asked her why this "et al" did not get a Nobel prize for his fantastic amount of papers. $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2010 at 7:52

5 Answers 5


Within the body of the text I would refer to the paper as work by "28 authors" but in the bibliography I would list them all .

  • $\begingroup$ I second this as one cites usually at most one paper by 28 authors. This may be abbreviated to [28A] as I have seen it for the analogous but more common situation of six authors. $\endgroup$ Apr 17, 2013 at 18:54

I'd say in the text "Written by the University of Georgia Vigre group" and then list all the people in the bibliography or just say "by the 28 authors listed at the arXiv."

For the AIM workshop again I'd consider "by the AIM workshop on subject X." I'd also consider X,Y, et al. where X and Y were the organizers of the workshop. I think it's ok to use et al if there's some non-alphabetical way of assigning more credit to some people.


The problems with using "et al." have been discussed at length on this blog post [1] and probably elsewhere on mathoverflow. However, these authors have left you in a slightly ridiculous situation if you try to give a full citation in the body of your text. So it seems that biting your tongue and using "et al." is the best way forward in that (apparently very unusual) situation.

It seems particularly bad to me to not list all the authors of a paper in the actual bibliography entry for the paper. Personally, I would list all of them in my submitted version and see whether the journal editor wants to force the matter.

1: http://sbseminar.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/et-al-is-unethical/

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    $\begingroup$ Listing all authors is fine for an electronic version, and plenty of people seem confident that dead tree journals will soon become history (though I'm not so sure myself). But conversation about papers (including on blogs, MO etc.) certainly isn't about to obsolesce, so some solution to the "concise reference problem" really is needed! $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2010 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ Well, one of the after-dinner topics that came up in discussion fairly recently was that for these AIM conferences which wants to foster collaboration and produce joint papers, one should really require, in the project proposal, a specification of a "Team Name". =) $\endgroup$ Oct 12, 2010 at 13:04

Why not list the authors in the references/bibliography, and then as, say, [23] in the body of the paper?

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the easiest most obvious solutions are often the best $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Feb 23, 2016 at 10:53

The question reminded me about one particular Ig Nobel Prize in Literature (1992):

Yuri Struchkov, unstoppable author from the Institute of Organoelement Compounds in Moscow, for the 948 scientific papers he published between the years 1981 and 1990, averaging more than one every 3.9 days.

This has been given to a physicist(!) and I wonder how many scientists coauthored the masterpieces. I also wonder whether the groups at the University of Georgia can be nominated in the nearest future...

Added. People outside mathematics would be hardly surprised by the 28/23 article. By mistake I came accross arXiv:1008.1753 which has 62($\pm$1) authors (there is even no room for the last 3 in the list!) and "11 pages (including Appendices), 6 figures".

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    $\begingroup$ Wadim: I hope I'm misinterpreting you, but it sounds like you're being unfair to the UGA group. They do serious work, which wouldn't make good sport for an IgNobel. $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2010 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ That's nothing, the recent article arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1007/1007.0516v1.pdf lists 1063 authors, and the article itself is about 7 pages long! $\endgroup$
    – J.C. Ottem
    Oct 15, 2010 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Sheikraisinrollbank, I do not consider my comment as unfair. First, I do not explicitly suggest them to be nominated for an Ig Nobel. Secondly, I do not count Ig Nobel as shame but as fun; take, for example, the last Nobel Prize in physics.$$ $$ J.C., your example is a real record, no doubts! $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2010 at 2:37
  • $\begingroup$ By the way, my supervisor was telling me that it is quite competitive to win the Ig Nobel prize and that people actively try to win it. It is certainly not regarded as shameful if one wins it, maybe even the opposite. He tried to make a possible case for nomination by creating a mini sperm collider in which sperms meet each other head on and collide (it didn't work). If I remember rightly, there are more than 1000 nominations for the prize each year, so it is competitive. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2021 at 11:40

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