Call for Respecting Author Identity in Academic Writing and Research

Dr. Binod Luitel Associate Professor, CERID, TU

Dr. Binod Luitel
Associate Professor, CERID, TU

It has been well experienced that academic writers can rarely be “self-dependent” in discussing or explaining ideas in the course of developing some thesis in any field of inquiry. Instead, ideas or insights are generated and developed by making reference to the works (including research finding, theoretical proposition, or any sort of written description, etc.) of previous authors. In this connection, one can summarize the points stated by the previous author and carry out critical analysis, synthesize the propositions of some authors, identify the lacking/gaps therein, and then refine the proposition/s by adding new insights. Or, one can even come out with a different perspective to look into the existing phenomena so that new propositions are established.

While doing so, acknowledging the previously done works and the respective authors who had contributed therein is one of the common minimum academic cultures that everybody should maintain in doing research as well as writing academic papers. Accordingly, this tradition has been established in the world more or less everywhere – for academic as well as professional practices in universities and publication houses.

However, some differences are found in the style of reference citation in the written text and the way of writing the authors’ names in the reference list that is usually placed at the end of the text. In this post, I am particularly raising the issue of crisis in author identity that has been created as a consequence of a particular ‘style’ of work listing in the ‘reference’ section of academic papers, research articles, books and dissertations.

When someone writes and publishes any material with his/her name, we need to understand that the very name that appears in the paper is his/her identity. Needless to say, the author has the willingness to be identified publicly with the name as appeared in the print; and it is a matter of honesty on the part of the subsequent writer/s to regard the previous authors by their respective names and surnames without any sort of intention to misinform the readers and without causing injustice against the author to the extent of losing his/her identity.

In this connection, I would like to draw the attention of the respected audience towards a question which should be considered a genuine one in the academic world, which is: How can the authors’ identity be properly respected while recording their works in the subsequent academic writings (when the previously produced source is consulted for reference purpose)? We must answer this question before deciding the style of making a list of works cited in the text, because some of the formats that are in widespread use in the ‘academic market’ have not been able to do justice in favour of authors as regards their identity.

Usually, the key information about any work to be listed in the ‘Reference’ section of a research paper includes: author, year of publication, work title (book, article, journal, dissertation, or any other document), the place of publication and publisher. We can be in a very comfortable position to say that there should not be a problem in any of the styles followed in making the reference list if the list contains these key things in the entry. Despite this, it would be relevant to raise serious reservations regarding the ‘style’ which deliberately reduces (and thus disregards or even undermines) the identity of previous authors by ‘abbreviating’ their first (and middle) names – which is an unwanted action for the original authors, and even objectionable from the point of view of their identity.

In the past, when I prepared academic articles, my reference list had duly honoured the authors whose works were cited in the text by entering the words carrying their identity as appeared in the respective sources (i.e. full names and surnames if the author mentioned so, and ‘abbreviated’ names only if the source itself contained the author’s identity like that). After the articles were submitted for publication in different forums (journals in particular), many of them have been published without reducing the previous authors’ identity. But, in some of them, the editorial team has taken the ‘action’ of identity reduction by abbreviating the initial and middle names – in the name of following the APA format and maintaining uniformity in the style of all writers in the journal.

A reference entry of this kind, in addition to doing injustice against the identity of authors discussed above, has also caused confusion among the mass of readers in properly recognizing the author. For instance, when someone quotes a sentence or phrase from an article written by Ram Ashish Giri and writes ‘Giri, R. A.’ in the reference entry, there is no point to ensure that his/her readers will, without confusion, understand that ‘R. A.’ stands for ‘Ram Ashish’! Instead, ‘R. A.’ can be understood by readers as any name beginning with R and A in the case of the first and middle names respectively (e.g. Raj Ashish, Ram Anish, Raj Avatar, and so on). Such a style, in this way, has not only reduced the authors’ identity but also misguided the readers more or less intentionally.

Interestingly, although such a style (which is in widespread use) does not allow the authors’ full recognition in the reference list; it has clearly instructed the writers to mention the complete name of the publisher. In this connection, the attempt of giving full recognition to the publisher should be well appreciated, but there is no point in disallowing authors’ full recognition. And, there can be no reason why authors’ identity should always be hidden on one hand and the curious readers should be left in confusion on the other!

The essence underlying the discussion so far is that we must have author acknowledging and reader friendly attitude; otherwise we cannot create an encouraging environment for academic and professional prosperity, growth and development. In absence of the willingness to make correction in style (with the aim of preserving author identity), the culture of intellectual exploitation can sustain forever under the banner of academic works such as publication and research. The academia throughout the globe needs to be aware of such a practice – which is not simply a matter of style but essentially a sort of academic offence against intellectuals. Steps need to be taken towards stopping such wrong practices so that the environment of academic honour can prosper towards right direction.

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