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Citing personal communication

According to the APA Style rules, personal communications “do not provide recoverable data” (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 179). Citations to personal communication take a different form than the typical reference; since the quoted or paraphrased information isn’t available, a reference wouldn’t provide useful information to the reader. Accordingly, cite the resource only in the text (p. 179).

When deciding whether to treat your resource as personal communication, consider if the resource would be available to readers without a person sharing your level of access, such as being a member of your course or being employed by the same company. Sources of information that are usually cited as personal communication include:

  • Classroom lectures or handouts
  • One-on-one private communication (e.g., conversation, letter, email)
  • Password-protected online discussion forums or course websites (e.g., Moodle)
  • Materials posted to Moodle that aren't available elsewhere (e.g., an instructor's PowerPoint presentation or an unpublished paper)
  • Internal organizational documents retrieved via an intranet
  • Resources requiring specialized security clearance
  • Information retrieved via social media that require membership (e.g., a private Facebook account or protected Twitter feed)
  • An interview, speech, or performance that wasn't recorded or transcribed

When citing personal communication in the text, provide the first initial and last name of an individual or the organizational name, “personal communication”, and the date that the communication took place:

  • A. Lastname (personal communication, Month day, year) said “quotation”.
  • In 2014, paraphrased text (Organizational name, personal communication, Month day, year).

The words “personal communication” provide sufficient information to tell the reader that the source of the information isn’t available; in other words, it isn’t necessary to also note the type of resource in the citation. In addition, a page or paragraph number shouldn’t be included in the citation because the reader can’t access the resource, which means the page or paragraph number is irrelevant.

I contacted the APA Style experts to ask the best way to cite repeatedly from the same personal communication in a paragraph. C. Lee (personal communication, November 22, 2016) suggested presenting the name of the author in the text and directly connecting subsequent quotations or paraphrases to the author. In the case of a direct quotation, she noted that, “there aren’t page or paragraph numbers to refer to, so those would be left out.” For additional information, she recommended “When to Include the Year in Citations Appearing More Than Once in a Paragraph” in the APA Style Blog.

Finally, information retrieved through primary research isn't usually cited as personal communication but rather is given an attribution in order to protect the anonymity of research participants; please see "How do I cite my original research results?" in WriteAnswers for more information.

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing Centre manager

(Originally published in Crossroads December 1, 2016)


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. 

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