I have come across the following sentence in a paper that I'm reading:

More information on those functions can be found by Li et al. (2013).

I'm fairly new to the world of academic papers, but this construction "can be found by Li et al. (2013)" doesn't sound correct.

Should it be phrased as follows:

More information on those functions can be found in the paper written by Li et al. (2013).


More information on those functions can be found in (Li et al, 2013).

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    The original sentence looks very odd to this US English speaker too. I would expect maybe "...can be found in Li et al. (2013)" where "Li et al." is kind of shorthand for "the paper by Li and others". – stangdon Apr 6 '17 at 21:02
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    Is your open parenthesis in the wrong place in the final example? – Catija Apr 6 '17 at 21:58
  • @Catija To be honest, I've seen examples of both "in (Author et al., Year)" and "in Li et al., (2013)" in the same context, so I'm not really sure if one is preferred over another. – Milos Apr 7 '17 at 1:35
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    If the reference is in the parentheses, the sentence is incomplete. It needs the title or some other reference to be complete if the author notation is like that. – Catija Apr 7 '17 at 1:37
  • It's good to know. Thanks for clarifying that to me. :) – Milos Apr 7 '17 at 1:40

The only thing wrong with this, in terms of normal author-year citations, is that by. It should be in. In author-year citations, the citation "Name (NNNN)" acts as a noun meaning the paper itself. It can also act as a noun meaning the author(s). In this case it means the paper. Now, if it were about something that Li and others had found in their paper, you might phrase it with by:

These new species were discovered by Li et al. (2013).

In that case, you are using "Li et al. (2013)" as a reference to the authors, rather than the paper. As such, you can, if you wish, say:

More information on those functions can be found in the paper by Li et al. (2013).

This would be unnecessary words and seem strange to an academic English-using audience. The most appropriate way to refer to the paper, in author-year citations, is:

More information on those functions can be found in Li et al. (2013).

I see in the comments someone suggesting the title should be there. That is incorrect. "Li et al. (2013)" is a citation, a reference, and the full information will then appear in the reference list at the end of the paper. One of the entries in the list with be something like:

Li, X, Zhang, Q and Huang, C (2013), "Title of paper", Title of journal, etc. etc.

The title appears in the reference list. The citation names the author, or both authors if there are two, or the first named author if there are more than two, and gives the year. That's enough to find it in the reference list. If it would be ambiguous to do that, so you couldn't find the specific reference in the list, you would add letters to the years. One reference would be 2013a, and another 2013b.

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