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Citations Versus Attributions (APA 7th ed.)

If you’re presenting comments from research participants in your work, consider whether you should cite or attribute the comments. Typically, since those comments would be gathered in interviews you did for your primary research, "they do not require a citation in APA Style because you do not cite your own work in the paper in which it is being first reported" (American Psychological Association [APA], 2020, p. 259). Also, "because quotations from research participants are part of your original research, do not include them in the reference list or treat them as personal communications; state in the text that the quotations are from participants (APA, 2020, p. 278).

If you promised anonymity to your research subjects,

abide by the thical agreements regarding confidentiality and/or anonymity between you and your participants. Take extra care to obtain and respect participants' consent to have their information included in your report. You may need to assign participants a pseudonym, obscure identifying information, or present information in the aggregate. (APA, 2020, p. 278)

For example, “Participant A noted that…, whereas Participant C disagreed because…”.

Ensuring your subjects remain anonymous requires more masking than just leaving names out of your text; strategies include:

(a) altering specific characteristics, (b) limiting the description of specific characteristics, (c) obfuscating case detail by adding extraneous material, and (d) using composite descriptions. Disguising identifying information must be done carefully because it is essential not to change variables in a way that would lead readers to draw false conclusions. (APA, 2020, p. 278)

If you have questions about how to appropriately maintain confidentiality for research subjects in your work, please check with your academic supervisor or journal editor.

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

Theresa Bell
Manager, Blended Learning Success

(Originally published in Crossroads January 31, 2018; updated with APA Style (7th ed.) information September 2, 2020; reviewed March 3, 2021)


American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.).