Reprise of the New Reference Format

A year ago, I wrote about AGU’s new style guide for formatting papers in its journals. There was also an Eos article about this change there is even a brief guide available. It’s been a year, so let’s recap the change and see how it has been going.

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            For the most part, this new format follows the style guide from the American Psychological Association (APA), which is a rule-set that has been slowly taking over as the format of choice for scholarly publishing. The big change that most people notice right away is in reference and citation formatting. But, you know what, AGU’s use of italics for citations in the main text was an anomaly in academic publishing. Nearly every other journal in solar, space, and planetary physics had already made the switch to the APA style, some of them decades ago. I can point to example papers that show the APA style in use for Annales Geophysicae, Space Science Reviews, JASTP, Solar Physics, The Astrophysical Journal, Earth Planets and Space, Planetary and Space Science, Icarus, the Journal of Space Weather and Space Climate, and Advances in Space Research. Yeah, there were many journals already doing this! There are still a few publishers of space physics articles that are using superscripts for citation callouts, like Nature, Science, and Physics of Plasmas, but as for the space physics journals using italics for citations…um, yeah, just the AGU journals, as far as I can tell. In addition to this compatibility pressure from the other journals within Earth and space science, most of Wiley’s other scholarly journals were already using this style, so this change should help their workflow and reduce production errors.

There is one deviation from the official APA style guide being enforced by AGU. The APA style says that the first citation of a paper with up to 5 authors should list all authors. Subsequent citations of papers with 3 to 5 authors should then just use the “et al.” designation after the first author’s name. AGU doesn’t do this first usage expansion of the author list; citations of all papers with 3 or more authors get to use “et al.” after the first author at every instance in the paper. This deviation is much appreciated!

Authors: if you are trying to follow APA style and are expanding author lists in the main text beyond two-author papers, then please stop. You don’t have to do this. You can just use “et al.” instead, even at the first usage.

There is one exception to this author name list guidance. When there are two papers by the same first author in the same year, and the coauthor lists are different within the first 6 names, then, instead of using the “a” and “b” designations after the date, the coauthor names should be listed until the two papers are uniquely identified. As far as I can tell, this is the only time when more than two author names should ever appear in a citation in the main text in an AGU journal. Unfortunately, the papers will have the multiple-name citations at every cite-listing of this paper throughout the article.

For an example of this, see the first paragraph of the Introduction of this paper – there are citations to two Eastwood et al. (2017) papers, but those two papers have different second authors. So, there in the first paragraph, is a citation to “Eastwood, Biffis, et al., 2017”, which looks a bit odd to readers that are used to the old style. If the two papers had the same author list (through the first 6 names), then they would have used the “a” and “b” designations after the date. Note that the Owens et al. (2017) paper, also cited in the first paragraph, has 3 authors, but it is simply “Owens et al. (2017)” because the article only cites one paper by this author from that year. This is the AGU deviation from APA style kicking in.

Why the cutoff at 6 authors for this usual citation method? In the reference list, APA style has a particular rule set for how many authors to list. For papers with up to 7 authors, you should list them all. For papers with 8 or more authors, you should only list the first 6 names, and then put “et al.” in place of the 2 or more names remaining. It used to be that you would list up to 10 authors, and for papers with 11 or more, you only listed the first author and replaced everyone else’s name with “et al.” Now, we will see the first 6 names before “et al.” kicks in. If you are author #7 on an 8-author paper, then, well, sorry, but you are like author #2 on an 11-author paper in the old formatting style.

There is one more thing about citations in the main text that is different from before, and which is causing some angst with space physicists. It is the rearrangement of the citations within a single cluster of paper references. The old style was to list them chronologically, while the APA style lists them alphabetically. Yeah, when you are grouping a bunch of citations together in the main text, the oldest is not necessarily listed first, it could be anywhere in the grouping, depending on the first author’s last name. It is possible to pull one of the citations out and force it to be first in the grouping, with a “see also” between the seminal paper and the other citations in the group. We have to change how we write, at least a bit, if we want to highlight the initial discovery papers or seminal papers on a topic.

Authors: if you object to how a Wiley production staffer rearranges your citations (i.e., into alphabetical order), then change the sentence around so you make it a running text citation:

…was addressed by Smith (1997) and Jones (1999).

rather than a parenthetical citation:

…was addressed (Jones, 1999; Smith, 1997).

Wording changes like this can be done during production.

I am hearing some complaints about the new look. I sympathize with those that are having a difficult time adjusting to the new citation and referencing style. Citations will no longer pop out in their italic font the way they used to. We might occasionally see more than one author name in a citation, and not just for two-author references. We will see a lot more ampersands in papers now, as “&” is replacing “and” for parenthetical citations of two-author references. We have to get used to a new look to papers in JGR Space Physics and other AGU journals, and we might even have to learn to write sentences in a way to highlight certain papers in a group citation.

If you are vehemently against it, then I can take your concerns up the chain at AGU HQ. In addition, you can complain to a member of the AGU Publications Committee, which is the group that sets policy on things like this. There could be additional deviations from APA style adopted, I don’t know. I am pretty sure that the new style is here to stay, though.

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2 thoughts on “Reprise of the New Reference Format

  1. Thanks for the re-cap, Mike! And also for all the suggestions for how we can circumvent some of the things we may not like (like the name order in citations).

  2. Unfortunately, the agu latex template and cls files use the natbibapa option with the apacite package. Trolling ’round the web reveals that while this provides access to the \citet and \citep commands needed for inline citations, it removes access to the \shortcite option to turn off the up-to-5-author inline expansion. Help!

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