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Dissertation & Doctoral Project Formatting & Clearance: Citing Personal Communications

After you successfully defend your dissertation or doctoral project, what happens? This is a guide to submitting your dissertation or doctoral project for the formatting check and final copy.

Citing Personal Communications

Not all of your sources will come from books, journals, newspapers, etc.  Some of them will consist of personal communications, or personal conversations, emails, class lectures, performance art, or research interviews.  Cite personal communications only in the text,  give the initials as well as the surname of the communicator, and provide the exact date if possible (see APA, section 6.20, p. 179; APA Style Blog, "What Belongs in the Reference List?").

Personal Conversation

In text format:

According to S. Brown (personal communication, July 22, 2012), the statistics class is full.

The statistics class is full (S. Brown, personal communication, July 22, 2012).

If the personal communication is recoverable, then the source should be cited as an archived material.

Individual Email

Since emails are not recoverable, APA treats them like personal communications (see APA Style FAQ, "How Do You Cite E-Mail Communications from Individuals?").  These are not included in the reference list.

In text format:

An example given by M. Lankershim (personal communication, May 11, 2008)

There were 100 participants in the study (M. Lankershim, personal communication, May 11, 2008)

Facebook Page (private, friends-only) (see APA, section 6.10, p. 173)

If a Facebook page privacy settings have been set to "friends only" or "private," then communications can only be referenced in text as personal communications.  However, if the content is visible to everyone, then communications can be posted to the reference page.

Unretrievable Class Lecture

If a class lecture is unretrievable, it is considered unrecoverable data.  Only reference the source within the text, and not on the reference list.

In text format:

According to Professor L. Tucker (personal communication, May 17, 2009)

The post-war depression of the early 1900s was a hardship for all citizens, rich and poor (Professor L. Tucker, personal communication, May 17, 2009)

Personal Interviews (see APA Style FAQ, "How Do You Cite an Interview"; APA Style Blog, "APA Style for Citing Interviews")

Because personal interviews are not considered recoverable data, these references should not be posted in the reference list.

In text format:

M. Hughes (personal communication, February 10, 2005) suggests that

Too many hot dogs are not good for your gut (M. Hughes, personal communication, Febrauary 10, 2005)

Performance Art (see APA Style Blog, "There's an Art to It")

Because people cannot go back to the actual performance unless it has been recorded, performance art should be formatted like a personal communication by giving the artist(s) and date of performance.  This source is not included in the reference list unless the performance has been recorded.

In text format

A. Adler's (personal communication, March 06, 2005) rendition of The Nutcracker is a postmodern attempt at a classical piece of ballet

The postmodern rendition of The Nutcracker (A.Adler, personal communication, March 06, 2005) was a success amongst the critics.

Research Interviews (see APA Blog Post, "What Belongs in the Reference List?")

Though most personal communications include the communicators first initial and surname, in the case of research interviewees, the participant's identity must remain anonymous for ethical reasons.  As a result, you should not include any identifying information.  Here are some ways to keep your participants anonymous:

  • Do not provide any identifying information:

Observations by one of the students interviews draws more attention to the inital problem: [Insert quote without other attributions]

  • Identify the participant by age or some other type of data:

"The experience was different and exhausting (male participant, 43 years of age)."

"In retrospect, I would have spent more time with the research librarian (female psychology student)."

  • Use letters, nicknames, or roles to identify participants

    Student A, Student B;   Participant A, Partcipant B

    John, Mary

    Doctor, Patient; Librarian, Patron; Teacher, Student