Works that cannot be recovered by readers are cited in the text as personal communications. Personal communications include emails, text messages, online chats or direct messages, personal interviews, telephone conversations, live speeches, unrecorded classroom lectures, memos, letters, messages from nonarchived discussion groups or online bulletin boards, and so on.
Use a personal communication citation only when a recoverable source is not available. For example, if you learned about a topic via a classroom lecture, it would be preferable to cite the research on which the instructor based the lecture. However, if the lecture contained original content not published elsewhere, cite the lecture as a personal communication.
When communications are recoverable only in an archive (e.g., a presidential library), cite them as archival materials.
Do not use a personal communication citation for quotes or information from participants whom you interviewed as part of your own original research; instead, quote those participants directly.
Citing personal communications in the text
Because readers cannot retrieve the information in personal communications, personal communications are not included in the reference list; they are cited in the text only. Give the initial(s) and surname of the communicator, and provide as exact a date as possible, using the following formats:
Narrative citation: E.-M. Paradis (personal communication, August 8, 2019)
Parenthetical citation: (T. Nguyen, personal communication, February 24, 2020)
Citing traditional knowledge or oral traditions of indigenous peoples
The manner of citing Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions (other terms are “Traditional Stories” and “Oral Histories”) of Indigenous Peoples varies depending on whether and how the information has been recorded—only certain cases use a variation of the personal communication citation.
- If the information has been recorded and is recoverable by readers (e.g., video, audio, interview transcript, book, article), cite it in the text and include a reference list entry in the correct format for that type of source (e.g., a recording on YouTube).
- Also maintain the integrity of Indigenous perspectives. Examine published works carefully (especially older works) to ensure that the information about Indigenous Peoples is accurate and appropriate to share before citing those works. For example, some stories are told only at certain times of year or by certain people and may not be appropriate to cite and share in a paper.
To describe Traditional Knowledge or Oral Traditions that are not recorded (and therefore are not recoverable by readers), provide as much detail in the in-text citation as is necessary to describe the content and to contextualize the origin of the information. For example, if you spoke with an Indigenous person directly to learn information (but they were not a research participant), use a variation of the personal communication citation.
- Provide the person’s full name and the nation or specific Indigenous group to which they belong, as well as their location or other details about them as relevant, followed by the words “personal communication,” and the date of the communication.
- Provide an exact date of correspondence if available; if correspondence took place over a period of time, provide a more general date or a range of dates. The date refers to when you consulted with the person, not to when the information originated.
- Ensure that the person agrees to have their name included in your paper and confirms the accuracy and appropriateness of the information you present.
- Because there is no recoverable source, a reference list entry is not used.
The following example illustrates how to incorporate these details into a variation of the personal communication citation. You might include more information or different information depending on the context of your work.
We spoke with Anna Grant (Haida Nation, lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, personal communication, April 2019) about traditional understandings of the world by First Nations Peoples in Canada. She described . . .
Also capitalize most terms related to Indigenous Peoples. These include names of specific groups (e.g., Cherokee, Cree, Ojibwe) and words related to Indigenous culture (e.g., Creation, the Creator, Elder, Oral Tradition, Traditional Knowledge, Vision Quest). The capitalization is intentional and demonstrates respect for Indigenous perspectives.
For more on citing information from Indigenous Peoples, including how to incorporate quotations from Indigenous research participants and how to share your own experiences if you are an Indigenous person, see Section 8.9 of the Publication Manual.
For more insights into creating works about Indigenous Peoples, also consult the following valuable resources by Indigenous writers and publishers. The APA Style team used these works as the foundation for the guidance in the Publication Manual.
International Journal of Indigenous Health. (n.d.). Defining Aboriginal Peoples within Canada. https://journals.uvic.ca/journalinfo/ijih/IJIHDefiningIndigenousPeoplesWithinCanada.pdf
Younging, G. (2018). Elements of Indigenous style: A guide for writing by and about Indigenous Peoples. Brush Education.