Thursday , November 24 2022

How to address ‘reference twins’ in social science research


I guess you’ve come across this case before but you probably didn’t know that’s what is referred to as reference twins. Well, the most important thing is to know how to properly present the reference when you come across such scenario in research paper writing but knowing that what you have just handled is a case of ‘reference twins’ is not a bad idea at all.

In real life, when you come across a pair of identical twins you sometimes struggle to distinguish them even when you know their names; just that you don’t often know which name to use for either of them. Such scenario comes up from time to time in social science research especially in both in-text and end of work referencing. But it’s easier to handle when it comes to research work. So what are we even talking about?

‘Reference twins’ is a concept used to refer to multiple articles by the same authors that were published in the same year with a view to distinguishing between the two within the work and in the list of references at the end of the work. The two articles are like identical twins when cited using the author-date referencing style because both the author or authors and the date of publication are the same. The titles of the two works are definitely different since they are two different works. In the in-text referencing there is no way the reader would know you have cited two different works by same authors because the names and dates are the same. That’s where the concept of ‘reference twins’ emanated from. The two references are identical twins.

So how do you handle such challenge in referencing? Very simple! You use letters ‘a’ and ‘b’ to distinguish between the two works, beginning from the one you cited first. What is recommended by most reference styles is that lowercase letters are added after the year (2019a, 2019b, etc.), depending on how many works are involved. If the author has three works done in the same year, you keep using the alphabets to differentiate them – ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’. You list them according to the alphabets at the end of the work when compiling cited materials.

Here are examples of how this is done at the end of the work and in-text referencing:

End of work:

Adeyemi, B. (2019a). Exposure to animation movies and its influence on child behaviour. Journal of animation studies, 5(2), 39-51.

Adeyemi, B. (2019b). Influence of billboard advertising on consumer patronage of indomie noodles. Journal of outdoor review, 4(1), 18-27.


In-text referencing:

Adeyemi (2019a) and Adeyemi (2019b) found that television viewers are….

Adeyemi (2019a; 2019b) found that television viewers are….


Where the work being cited is in press or does not have a date (signified by n.d., which stands for “no date”), use the following forms for the date: (in press-a), (in press-b), (n.d.-a), and (n.d.-b), and so forth.

You should make sure that your references are true identical twins. What has been explained here 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.  Take a look at these two examples:

Okafor, A., Ibeh P. C., & Kolawole, J, R. (2017). Influence of gift-giving in customer relations. Customer Care Journal, 8(3), 66-81.

Okafor, A., Kolawole, J. R. & Ibeh P. C. (2017). Analysis of cable television influence of academic performance of secondary school students in Lagos. Television review Journal, 2(1), 12-22.

Okafor, A., Ibeh P. C., & Nkwonta, F, U., & Umar, Y. A., Ntoghoke, H. K. (2017). Facebook use among adolescent smokers in Nigeria. Journal of Health Review Studies, 5(2), 24-39.

The first in-text citations to each of these articles would be as follows:

  • (Okafor, Ibeh, & Kolawole, 2017)
  • (Okafor, Kolawole, & Ibeh, 2017)
  • (Okafor, Ibeh, Nkwonta, Umar, & Ntoghoke, 2017)


After citing these works for the first time the pattern of citation changes if you have to cite them subsequently. The usual practice is to abbreviate studies with three or more authors by writing the first author’s name plus et al. (Latin for “and others”). But if you do this here you will further create confusion because it will produce three Okafor et al. (2017) citations within the work. The reader will not be able to differentiate between the three works. What you do is to write out as many names as necessary (here, to the third name) upon subsequent citations to tell the two apart:

  • (Okafor, Ibeh, & Kolawole, 2017)
  • Okafor, Kolawole, & Ibeh, 2017)
  • (Oakfor, Ibeh, Nkwonta, et al., 2017)

You can see that for the first and second references, all the three names were included as citations to the sources. But for the third reference, the two remaining names can be abbreviated to et al. since the third name showed that the work is different from the others, especially the first one. Don’t forget that if only one name remains is left after writing out the first three names, that name must be written out with all the rest because et al. is plural and cannot be used where only one name is remaining.

This has to also depend on the referencing style you are using because some reference guides instruct that you list out all authors names if they are up to six, when you are citing them for the first time then you can use et al. subsequently. Some others such as the 7th edition of the American Psychological Association (APA) style which is popular in the social sciences says if the names are up to three or more you only mention the first three names and use et al. to represent the others even if you are citing the work for the first time. But where reference twins are involved you have to give more than three names to differentiate between them, as indicated in the example above.

About Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a writer with passion for cutting-edge news

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