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Citing controversial personal communication

Sometimes students want to use controversial comments from personal communication in their papers. As good research practice, you should obtain permission from the speaker to name him/her within the document. Also, consider that if you name the person to whom the comment was directed without that person’s permission, according to RRU’s Policy on Student Rights and Responsibilities or other policies, you would be infringing on that person’s right to privacy. The challenge, of course, is that in most cases, it’s unlikely that the permission would be granted. Rather than trying to attain permission that is unlikely to be granted, the other option is to not reveal the identities of the individuals involved. If you’re going to use the latter approach, please provide a note somewhere in the introduction of the paper to the effect that in order to protect the anonymity of some individuals, identifying information has been masked or removed. You could then use statements such as “a student in the online course posted the comment that, 'quotation’ (citation), which had the impact of…”. According to the APA style rules, a citation of personal communication usually takes the following format: (A. Author, personal communication, date of communication). In the Chicago Manual of Style, the format is (Firstname Lastname, pers. comm.). Neither style guide provides a reference list entry for personal communication. Keep in mind that the name and/or date may need to be masked if the information could reveal the speaker.

If you are unsure of how to approach incorporating controversial comments in your paper, please check with your professor for guidance. If you have questions about how to properly cite such comments, feel free to contact the Writing Centre. Finally, if you have questions regarding RRU’s privacy rules, please feel free to contact Bev Hooper, RRU’s Privacy Officer, at bev.hooper@royalroads.ca, or 250-391-2600, ext. 4178.

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