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How to cite a work with a nonrecoverable source

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Adams, A. (2022, March 15). How to cite a work with a nonrecoverable source. APA Style.

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A work that cannot be accessed by readers is considered a nonrecoverable source. Works that cannot be recovered (i.e., without a source element) should not be included in the reference list because readers cannot retrieve them. In most cases, nonrecoverable sources such as personal emails, nonarchived social media livestreams (or deleted and unarchived social media posts), classroom lectures, unrecorded webinars or presentations, and intranet sources should be cited only in the text as personal communications. In the in-text citation, provide the initial(s) and surname of the communicator and the exact date (or a date as close as possible) the communication occurred, as shown in the following example.

Formats for citing personal communications in the text

  • Narrative citation: P. Avadhanula (personal communication, February 10, 2022)
  • Parenthetical citation: (P. Avadhanula, personal communication, February 10, 2022) 

In this case, “P. Avadhanula” was the instructor who gave the class lecture that I am citing.

It is preferable to cite works that are recoverable so your readers can retrieve them. Use a personal communication in-text citation only when a recoverable source is not available and when the communication or work contains original content that is not readily available in any other source.

For example, you may have written an email to a subject matter expert regarding the topic of your paper and received a detailed reply. You want to cite the expert information found in the email in your paper, but you know that it is important to cite only works that your readers can retrieve. You then searched the subject matter expert’s website and associated social media pages for similar content but could not find information similar enough to the points you want to cite from the email. In this case, because the information is not readily available in any other retrievable source, citing it as a personal communication would be your best option.

Test URLs in reference list entries to ensure that online works are still recoverable

Sometimes, you may discover that links to online sources no longer work and thus the source is now nonrecoverable. Before submitting your paper, check your reference list entries for accuracy. Do not include broken URLs in your paper. If the content you cited is no longer available online, search for an archived version of the page on Internet Archive and use the archived URL—if available. If no archived version of the URL is available, delete the reference list entry and, if possible, substitute a reference for another source.

The same guidance applies to works with DOIs. Test all DOIs in your reference list to ensure that they work and update them as necessary—that is, if the DOI does not work as a link, search for the work online to check whether you need to make corrections to the DOI.

For more information on how to cite nonrecoverable works, please see Section 8.9 in the Publication Manual and the Concise Guide to APA Style.