Author disambiguation: Use multiple initials

Another way to disambiguate authors in Publish or Perish is to use multiple initials in your search. Many academics, including nearly all US academics, have a “middle” name. Hence, you might want to use both initials when searching.

"CT Kulik" rather than "C Kulik"

For instance rather than searching for “C Kulik”, you could search for “CT Kulik” instead. Usually, searching with two initials provides a very “clean” result, unless your family name is very common. Be careful though: Authors are not always consistent in the initials that they use in their publications. Even if they are, references to their articles may use other combinations or formats. It is usually safer to start your search with only one initial.

Limitations of this strategy

As an example, imagine that my family name was not unique in academia and you needed to include more than one initial to limit the search. How would you search?

  • "AW Harzing" (resulting in 9079 citations)?
  • “AWK Harzing" (resulting in 536 citations)?
  • “AK Harzing” (resulting in 3 citations)?

As indicated in brackets, each search will give you a different result. Moreover, including my middle initial (K) is a sure-fire way to underestimate my citation impact. However, each of the three searches with more than one initial gives fewer citations than the original 9668 citations for “A Harzing” and thus underestimates my citation impact.

Google Scholar results for multiple initial search are not always intuitive

In contrast to some other sources for publication and citation data Google Scholar will provide exact matches if you search for two or more initials. This can be quite annoying if you search for an academic that has published some articles with two and other articles with three initials as a search with two initials will not provided the publications with three initials. If you search for one initial, this is not the case, e.g. "A Nother" will also match AB Nother" and "ABC Nother".

In the above example:

  • "A Harzing" would find "A Harzing" "AW Harzing", "AWK Harzing" and "AK Harzing" and is thus the safest bet [though it would also find "AA Harzing", "AB Harzing" "AC Harzing" etc., if these people existed.]
  • "AK" Harzing and "AWK Harzing" would both only find exact matches, so they will not find "AKA Harzing" or "AWKA" Harzing.
  • Likewise, "AW Harzing" would only find "AW Harzing" not "AWK Harzing". Thus searching with two initials for someone who has also published with three initials will miss part of their publication record. The solution here would be to search for "AW Harzing" OR "AWK Harzing".

My recommendation

In general, this search strategy seems to be most effective with Anglophone North Americans who:

  1. tend to have a middle initial, and
  2. tend to use it systematically when publishing

For academics outside this group, this strategy can be a bit hit-and-miss.

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