9 posts categorized "Personal communications"

January 09, 2014

Intranet Intrigue

Daisiesby Stefanie

Dear Style Expert,

I’m writing a paper for class, and I’m using some obscure sources my professor posted on the class website (but aren’t available elsewhere—I checked!). But this website is on my school’s intranet, so only students and faculty at my university can access these sources. How do I include them in my reference list?

—Serious Student


Dear Serious,

That’s an excellent question! You’ve noted that the reference list is provided to help readers find the sources you used in preparing your paper, and thus it doesn’t make sense to include sources that your readers cannot retrieve. My question for you is, Who is your intended audience? If this paper is for class only, then provide a complete reference for your electronic source. But if class is only the first step for this paper—for example, you may plan on submitting it for publication, or it may be posted on your school’s Internet website, where anyone could read it—then you can treat the source as an irretrievable personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of the What Belongs in the Reference List? blog post).


Thank you for your question, and good luck with your paper!


October 31, 2013

How to Cite Works From the Spirit World

Jeffby Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Dear Style Experts,
I need to cite a book that was dictated by a spirit to a medium. Who’s the author here? I was thinking it would be the spirit, but now that I’ve put it into my reference list, it looks kind of weird.
                                                           —Spooked in Spokane


Dear Spooked,

Noncorporeal beings have dictated a number of bestsellers, yet they never seem to cash their own royalty checks. For bibliographic purposes, the author is the person through whom the work entered the corporeal realm.

Take, for example, the work of Jane Roberts. In the 1960s, she began to publish communications she received in a trance state from an “energy personality essence no longer focused in physical matter” named Seth. Over the next few decades, dozens of volumes were published, some of which were edited by her husband after her death.

Roberts, J. (1972). Seth speaks: The eternal validity of the soul. 
San Rafael, CA: Amber Allen.
Roberts, J., & Roberts, R. (Ed.). (1993). A Seth reader. San Anselmo, 
CA: Vernal Equinox Press.

Though they have been embraced by the New Age movement, works from the Great Beyond are not limited to the disco era. The revival of the Spiritualist movement in the early 20th century produced its own star authors, such as Patience Worth. Claiming to be an English girl who came to America in the 17th century, she began speaking through a housewife named Pearl Curran in 1916. Initially she used a Ouija board, but eventually Curran was able to dictate her conversations while pacing about the room or even smoking a cigarette. A number of novels and poems were published under the name of Patience Worth, but virtually all are out of print.

Curran, P. (1917). The sorry tale: A story of the time of Christ. New 
York, NY: Holt. Retrieved from http://books.google.com

But trance-dictated works are not limited to the literary world. A British woman named Rosemary Brown claimed that the spirits of Liszt, Beethoven, Chopin and other composers were presenting new music through her that they had composed in the spirit world.
Brown, R. (1974). The Rosemary Brown piano album: 7 pieces inspired by 
Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms & Liszt. London,
England: Paxton.

The phenomenon of spirit dictation has naturally attracted the attention of psychological researchers over the years. If you’re interested in learning more, a few sources are presented below.

SeanceCunningham, P. (2012). The content–source problem in modern mediumship research. Journal of Parapsychology, 76, 295–319.

Diliberto, G. (2010, September). Patience Worth: Author from the great beyond. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Patience-Worth-Author-From-the-Great-Beyond.html

LePort, A. K. R., Mattfeld, A. T., Dickinson-Anson, H., Fallon, J. H., Stark, C. E. L., Kruggel, F. . . . McGaugh, J. L. (2012). Behavioral and neuroanatomical investigation of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 98, 78–92.

Peres, J. F., Moreira-Almeida, A., Caixeta, L., Leao, F., & Newberg, A. (2012). Neuroimaging during trance state: A contribution to the study of dissociation. PLoS ONE, 7(11), e49360. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049360

October 18, 2013

How to Cite Social Media in APA Style (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+)

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Thanks to developments in technology and feedback from our users, the APA Style team has updated the formats for citing social media, including content from Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. These guidelines are the same as you’ll find in our APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats).

Three Ways to Cite Social Media

There are three main ways to cite social media content in an APA Style paper:

  • generally with a URL,
  • as a personal communication, and
  • with a typical APA Style in-text citation and reference list entry.

We'll look at each of these along with examples. 

General Mentions With a URL

If you discuss any website or page in general in a paper (including but not limited to social media), it is sufficient to give the URL in the text the first time it is mentioned. No reference list entry is needed. Here is an example:

News agencies like CNN provide breaking news coverage to millions of people every day on their website (http://www.cnn.com) and Twitter account (http://twitter.com/CNN). In our first investigation, we analyzed the content of CNN’s Twitter feed during the year 2012.

Personal Communications

If you paraphrase or quote specific information from social media but your readership will be unable to access the content (e.g., because of friends-only privacy settings or because the exchange occurred in a private message), cite the content as a personal communication (see Publication Manual § 6.20). A personal communication citation should be used because there is no direct, reliable path for all readers to retrieve the source. Here is an example: 

K. M. Ingraham (personal communication, October 5, 2013) stated that she found her career as an educational psychologist intellectually stimulating as well as emotionally fulfilling.

In-Text Citations and Reference List Entries

Finally, if you paraphrase or quote specific, retrievable information from social media, provide an in-text citation (with the author and date) and a reference list entry (with the author, date, title, and source URL). The guidelines below explain how to format each of these elements for any social media citation, and examples follow.


  • First, provide either an individual author’s real last name and initials in inverted format (Author, A. A.) or the full name of a group. This allows the reference to be associated with and alphabetized alongside any other works by that author.
  • Second, provide social media identity information. On Twitter, provide the author’s screen name in square brackets (if only the screen name is known, provide it without brackets). On Facebook and Google+, when the author is an individual, spell out his or her given name in square brackets.
  • The author reflects who posted the content, not necessarily who created it. Credit additional individuals in the narrative if necessary.


  • Provide the year, month, and day for items that have a specific date associated with them, such as status updates, tweets, photos, and videos; otherwise, provide only the year.
  • If the date is unknown, use “n.d.” (for no date) instead.
  • If the date is unknown but can be reasonably approximated, use “ca.” (for circa) followed by the approximated year, in square brackets.
  • For multiple citations from the same author in the same year (regardless of the month or day), alphabetize the entries by title and add a lowercase letter after the year (e.g., 2013a, 2013b; n.d.-a, n.d.-b; or [ca. 2013a], [ca. 2013b]). Ignore nonletter characters such as the at sign (@) and pound sign (#) when alphabetizing.


  • Provide the name of the page or the content or caption of the post (up to the first 40 words) as the title.
  • Do not italicize the titles of status updates, tweets, pages, or photographs; do italicize the titles of items that stand alone, such as videos and photo albums.
  • If the item contains no words (e.g., a photograph without a caption), provide a description of the item in square brackets.
  • Describe the content form (e.g., tweet, Facebook status update, photograph, timeline, video file) after the title in square brackets.


  • Provide a retrieval URL that leads as directly and reliably to the cited content as possible (click a post’s date stamp to access its archived URL).
  • Provide a retrieval date if the content may change (e.g., whole feeds or pages). Do not provide a retrieval date if the post has a specific date associated with it already (e.g., status updates, tweets, photos, and videos).


Example Citations

Tweet, Individual Author


Gates, B. [BillGates]. (2013, February 26). #Polio is 99% eradicated. Join me & @FCBarcelona as we work to finish the job and #EndPolio. VIDEO: http://b-gat.es/X75Lvy [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BillGates/status/306195345845665792
  • In-text citation: (Gates, 2013).

Tweet, Group Author


Stanford Medicine [SUMedicine]. (2012, October 9). Animal study shows sleeping brain behaves as if it's remembering: http://stan.md/RrqyEt #sleep #neuroscience #research [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/SUMedicine/status/255644688630046720
  • In-text citation: (Stanford Medicine, 2012).

Facebook Status Update, Individual Author


Gaiman, N. [Neil]. (2012, February 29). Please celebrate Leap Year Day in the traditional manner by taking a writer out for dinner. It’s been four years since many authors had a good dinner. We are waiting. Many of us have our forks or chopsticks at the [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/neilgaiman/posts/10150574185041016
  • In-text citation: (Gaiman, 2012). 

Facebook Status Update, Group Author

APA Style

APA Style. (2011, March 10). How do you spell success in APA Style? Easy! Consult Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or APA’s Dictionary of Psychology. Read more over at the APA Style Blog [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/APAStyle/posts/206877529328877
  • In-text citation: (APA Style, 2011).

Google+ Post


Cornell University. (2012, October 11). Having a cup of coffee before closing your eyes is the most effective way to combat daytime drowsiness, according to research. Sounds counterintuitive, but it takes 20 minutes for the caffeine to get into your bloodstream. So if you take [Google+ post]. Retrieved from https://plus.google.com/116871314286286422580/posts/NqCFGr4eveT
  • In-text citation: (Cornell University, 2012). 

Social Media Video

APA video

American Psychological Association. (2011, September 19). This is psychology: Family caregivers [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150303396563992&set=vb.290103137578
  • In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, 2011).

Social Media Photo or Graphic, With Caption

National Geographic

National Geographic. (2012, November 20). A supertelephoto lens allowed Colleen Pinski to capture this image of an annual solar eclipse. See more top shots: http://on.natgeo.com/UasjJH [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151148294503951&set=pb.23497828950.-2207520000.1357225190
  • In-text citation: (National Geographic, 2012).
  • The photographer can be credited in the narrative, for example, “Colleen Pinski photographed a solar eclipse using a telephoto lens (National Geographic, 2012).”

Social Media Photo or Graphic, Without Caption

US Census Bureau

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012, October 10). [Pathways after a bachelor’s degree in psychology: Educational attainment, common occupations, and synthetic work-life earnings and estimates] [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151027855527364&set=a.10151027848052364.407698.202626512363
  • In-text citation: (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Social Media Photo Album

Red Bull Stratos

Red Bull Stratos. (2012, October 15). Mission to the edge of space, accomplished [Photo album]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.507275739283434.122701.122924687718543
  • In-text citation: (Red Bull Stratos, 2012). 
  • Include other details in the narrative, for example, "Felix Baumgartner broke the speed of sound in freefall during his jump from the edge of space (for photos from mission day, see Red Bull Stratos, 2012)." 

Social Media Page

American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Timeline [Facebook page]. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from https://www.facebook.com/AmericanPsychologicalAssociation/info
  • In-text citation: (American Psychological Association, n.d.).

Day, F. [Felicia]. [ca. 2013]. Posts [Google+ page]. Retrieved July 8, 2013, from https://plus.google.com/+FeliciaDay/posts

  • In-text citation: (Day, [ca. 2013]).

National Institute of Mental Health [NIMHgov]. (n.d.). Tweets [Twitter page]. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from https://twitter.com/NIMHgov
  • In-text citation: (National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.).

For More

For more information on all kinds of electronic references, see the APA Style Guide to Electronic References, Sixth Edition (available in PDF and Kindle formats), as well as the APA Publication Manual. To cite social media items not covered here, follow the format that is most similar, and also see our post on what to do if your reference isn’t in the manual.

Thank you to all our readers who helped us develop these formats. Your feedback is always appreciated.

August 22, 2013

Let’s Talk About Research Participants

Chelsea blog 2  Jeff blogby Chelsea Lee and Jeff Hume-Pratuch

In this post you will learn how to present data gathered during surveys or interviews with research participants that you conducted as part of your research. You may be surprised to learn that although you can discuss your interview and survey data in a paper, you should not cite them. Here’s why.

Retrievability Versus Confidentiality

Three hands

In APA Style, all sources must provide retrievable data. Because one purpose of references is to lead the reader to the source, both the reference entry and the in-text citation begin with the name of the author. But rules for the ethical reporting of human research data prohibit researchers from revealing “confidential, personally identifiable information concerning their patients, . . . research participants, or other recipients of their services” (APA Publication Manual [PM]; 6th ed., § 1.11, p. 16; APA Ethics Code, Standard 4.07). In other words, you must prevent the reader from identifying the source of information.

In this clash of principles, which one should triumph? The value of protecting participants’ confidentiality must always win out. “Subject privacy . . . should never be sacrificed for clinical or scientific accuracy” (PM § 1.11)—not even for APA Style.

Strategies for the Discussion of Research Participant Data

Although you don’t cite data you gathered from research participants, you can discuss them, provided that you preserve the confidentiality you guaranteed the participants when they consented to participate in your study (see PM § 1.11). In practical terms, this means that “neither the subject nor third parties (e.g., family members, employers) are identifiable” (PM, p. 17) from the information presented.

Strategies for the ethical use of data from research participants include the following:

  • referring to participants by identifiers other than their names, such as
    • their roles (e.g., participant, doctor, patient),
    • pseudonyms or nicknames,
    • initials,
    • descriptive phrases,
    • case numbers, or
    • letters of the alphabet;
  • altering certain participant characteristics in your discussion of the participants (e.g., make the characteristics more general, such as saying “European” instead of “French”);
  • leaving out unimportant identifying details about the participant;
  • adding extraneous material to obscure case details; and
  • combining the statements of several participants into a “composite” participant.

Choose the strategy that makes sense given the degree of confidentiality of information you must maintain and what details are important to relate to the reader. Keep in mind that in employing these strategies it is essential that you not “change variables that would lead the reader to draw false conclusions related to the phenomena being described” (PM, p. 17). 

Examples of How to Discuss Research Participant Data

Here are a few examples of how participant data might be presented in the text. The most appropriate presentation will depend on context.

  • One respondent stated she had never experienced a level of destruction similar to that caused by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
  • “Madge,” a 45-year-old Red Cross social worker, was in Sichuan province when the earthquake struck. “It was unlike anything else I have experienced,” she said.
  • MJ, a European social worker, said the earthquake was “unlike anything else I have experienced.”
  • A non-Chinese social worker said the 2008 Sichuan earthquake “exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”
  • Case 24 was injured in the earthquake.
  • Participant M said she had never experienced anything like the earthquake or its level of devastation.
  • Several employees of a humanitarian aid organization said that they were emotionally distressed by the devastation the earthquake left behind.

Data can also be presented in a table or figure provided these same standards are abided by. 

Going on the Record

If the research participant is willing to go "on the record," or include his or her name in the paper, use a personal communication citation (see PM § 6.20). In that case, you should write up the material you intend to use, present it to the participant, and get his or her written permission before including it (see PM § 1.11). In your paper, the information might be presented as follows:

  • M. Johnson (personal communication, May 16, 2008), a Red Cross social worker who assisted in the Sichuan earthquake recovery efforts, stated that “the earthquake exceeded levels of devastation I have ever seen before.”

Further Reading

The issues surrounding participant privacy in research reporting are complex and exceed what can be presented in this post. For further reading, consult the APA Publication Manual (6th ed., § 1.11) as well as the APA Ethics Code

November 15, 2012

How to Cite a Class in APA Style

Timothy.mcadooby Timothy McAdoo

Have you ever learned so much in a class that you wanted to cite the whole thing? If so, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, because a class is not a retrievable source, when you try to put together a reference, you won’t have a "where" there. There, there: Don’t worry, you do have other options!

Citing a Course Pack or Custom Textbookback to school

Sometimes people who ask about citing a course are really trying to cite the textbook, course pack, custom textbook, or other published materials used in the class. Our recent post on that topic provides a number of options.

Citing the Teacher’s PowerPoint File or Other Materials

In some cases, you might want to cite materials presented by the instructor that were not included in a course pack or a custom textbook (e.g., the instructor’s lecture itself or a PowerPoint presentation designed by the instructor). 

If the instructor has posted the materials somewhere online, you can cite them directly. But, it’s more likely that he or she is the only source for the materials. In that case, cite as a personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of our post on what belongs in a reference list).

Citing Your Own Class Notes 

In other cases, you might want to cite your own notes from the class. Again, because these notes will not be a retrievable source for most readers, cite them as a personal communication (see the Provide a Reliable Path to the Source section of our post on what belongs in a reference list).

Citing the Course Itself 

Your experience of attending the class simply cannot be replicated or retrieved. But, although the course itself is not retrievable, you may be able to find a description of the course on your school’s website. If you can find it online, you can cite it!

May 17, 2012

Missing Pieces: How to Write an APA Style Reference Even Without All the Information

Chelsea blog 2by Chelsea Lee

Most APA Style references are straightforward to write—the guidance and examples in Chapter 7 of the Publication Manual and on this blog make that possible. We’ve written a good deal about the architecture of a generic reference (the four basic pieces of author, date, title, and source). Sometimes, however, one or more of those pieces is missing, and writing the reference can get more difficult. This post will help you adapt the classic APA Style reference template to fit any situation where information might be missing, as well as show you how to create the corresponding in-text citations for those references. 

The table below shows how to write an APA Style reference when information is missing. It is also available for download as a PDF.

What’s missing?


Reference template

Position A

Position B

Position C

Position D

Nothing—all pieces are present

List information in the order of author, date, title (with description in square brackets if necessary for explanation of nonroutine information), and source

Author, A. A.


Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].

Retrieved from http://xxxxx


Retrieved Month Day, Year, from http://xxxxx


Location: Publisher.



Author is missing

Substitute title for author; then provide date and source

Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].



Date is missing

Provide author, substitute n.d. for no date, and then give title and source

Author, A. A.


Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].

Title is missing

Provide author and date, describe document inside square brackets, and then give source

Author, A. A.


[Description of document].

Author and date are both missing

Substitute title for author and n.d. for no date; then give source

Title of document [Format].


Title of document [Format].



Author and title are both missing

Substitute description of document inside square brackets for author; then give date and source

[Description of document].



Date and title are both missing

Provide author, substitute n.d. for no date, describe document inside square brackets, and then give source

Author, A. A.


[Description of document].

Author, date, and title are all missing

Substitute description of document inside square brackets for author, substitute n.d. for no date, and then give source

[Description of document].



Source is missing

Cite as personal communication (see §6.20) or find a substitute





Title Variations

As shown in the table, the title of a document is only sometimes italicized, depending on the independence of the source. That is, do italicize the title of a document that stands alone (books, reports, etc.), but do not italicize the title of a document that is part of a greater whole (chapters, articles, etc., which are part of edited books or journals, respectively). Also do not italicize the titles of software, instruments, and apparatus (see §7.08 in the Publication Manual). If you have trouble determining whether something stands alone (such as for a document on a website), choose not to italicize. For examples and more explanation, see the blog post on capitalization and formatting of reference titles in the reference list.

Source Variations

As shown in the Position D column of the table, the source part of a reference list entry can vary as well. It should reflect either a retrieval URL (for online documents without DOIs), a publisher location and name (for print sources), or a DOI (for any document that has one, whether print or online). It is not usually necessary to include a retrieval date for online sources; one should be provided only if the source is likely to change over time, such as with an unarchived wiki page.

Sometimes source information is incomplete but with a little detective work you can find what you need; for example, if you know a publisher name but not its location, you can research the publisher to find the location. Even sources of limited availability can be cited in APA Style, including unpublished and informally published works (see §7.09) and archival documents and collections (see §7.10).

Note, however, that it is not possible to write a traditional APA Style reference if source information is truly missing. The purpose of an APA Style reference is to provide readers with information on how to locate the source that you used, and if you cannot tell them how to do so, you either have to find a substitute or cite the source as personal communication (see §6.20 in the Publication Manual).

Creating In-Text Citations

Create an in-text citation for any reference by using the pieces from Positions A and B in the table above. For most references, this will be the author and date (Author, date). For titles in Position A, use italics for works that stand alone (Title of Document, date) and quotation marks for works that are part of a greater whole (“Title of Document,” date). Retain square brackets for descriptions of documents in Position A ([Description of document], date). For examples and more explanation, see our post on formatting and capitalization of titles in the text.  

We hope this guide to missing pieces will help you as you create your APA Style references.

September 22, 2011

Me, Myself, and I

More Tales From the Style Expert Inbox

by Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Jeff Dear Style Expert,

My professor said that if I express my own opinion in a paper, I have to cite myself in text. Do I have to put myself in the reference list too, or is it more like a personal communication? It seems kind of odd to be citing a communication with yourself.

Dear Irene,

Although it’s a basic principle of scientific writing that “researchers . . . give credit where credit is due” (APA Publication Manual, 6th ed., p. 15) when they use the words and ideas of others, it’s really not necessary to cite yourself as the source of your own opinion. After all, your name is on the title page.

Your professor may be trying to encourage you to distinguish your opinions from conclusions you have drawn on the basis of empirical evidence. Generally, however, authors indicate their opinions by introducing them with a phrase such as “In my opinion,” “I think,” or “I believe.” (And yes, it’s perfectly OK to use first-person pronouns for this purpose in APA Style.)

In short, citing yourself as an authority on your own opinion is just not done in APA Style—or any form of serious communication. (Just ask Bob Dole.)

Hope this helps,


Got a nagging question about APA Style? Send it to us at StyleExpert@apastyle.org!

April 28, 2011

Can You Cite Personal Life Experience?

Chelsea blog

Dear APA,

I am writing a paper for graduate school and would like to cite something I have specialized knowledge about because of previous academic and work experience. I no longer remember exactly where I learned it or who I learned it from, but I am sure that I am correct. Do I really have look up everything again? I’m not some world-famous scholar or anything, but I feel like my degree and life experience should count for something. Can I cite myself or my degree in my paper?

—Foggy in Fresno

Dear Foggy,

Unfortunately, personal experience is not something you can cite in an academic paper. First, let’s think about this question in terms of the purpose of the reference list, which is retrievability of the source for the reader. With personal experience, there is nothing for the reader to retrieve—ergo, no citation. Likewise, if you have other nonretrievable sources (personal communications, like personal e-mail and phone calls), these do not get reference list entries either (although they do receive in-text citations, because they involve other people than just yourself).

That brings us to a second point, though: the purpose of citation in academic writing. Consider for a moment the way published authors provide citations in their articles for so many facts that are doubtless part of their personal experience and knowledge by now. They provide sources not because their experience counts for nothing but because part of academic writing is demonstrating that you understand the foundation of knowledge on which your contributions stand. Academic writing is also about weaving your contributions together with what came before into the fabric of scientific thought, for the sake of those who will come after you. Looking up the sources also allows you to verify your facts against the most up-to-date information.

So, in general, you should provide sources for specialized facts and knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t speak from personal experience or opinion in your writing. In most every paper authors should be coming to their own conclusions about the data or previous research. And certainly there are contexts (such as, say, a personal response or reflection paper) in which drawing upon your own experiences and knowledge is even encouraged.  

I hope this helps clarify the “whys” of citation in academic writing!

—Chelsea Lee

October 28, 2010

What Belongs in the Reference List?

.rev3By Jeff Hume-Pratuch

Dear APA Style Experts,

I’m doing a paper for a psychology class that requires our opinion on “the most powerful influences on your view of the world.” I want to cite a conversation I had with my grandmother, but I don't know how to put this information on the reference page. Please advise.

All in the Family

We devote a lot of time on the APA Style blog to different ways of formatting references, both in text and in the reference list, but have you ever thought about what qualifies as a reference?

The purpose of the reference list is to “acknowledge the work of previous scholars and provide a reliable way to locate it” (APA Publication Manual, 6th ed., p. 37). Let’s break this statement down and apply it to the question at hand.

Acknowledge the Work of Others
If someone else’s ideas, theories, or research have directly influenced your work, you need to credit the source in text and in the reference list. This applies whether you are directly quoting or paraphrasing the work in question. If you are building on work that you yourself have previously published, you need to cite that as well. This enables your readers to follow the idea back to its source.

Placing a source in your reference list also implies that you have personally read it. If you read Smith & Hawkshaw’s (2008) opinion of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but not Conan Doyle’s work itself, don’t put the latter in the list. What you have there is a secondary source (p. 178). 

In addition, you should consider the context in which you are writing. In most cases, your source should have some scholarly relevance. For a personal reflection paper, it is appropriate to quote one’s grandmother; for a dissertation on child development, not so much (unless one’s grandmother happens to be Anna Freud).

Provide a Reliable Path to the Source
Part of the purpose of a reference is to lead your reader back to the sources you used. For a book or journal article, this path is pretty straightforward, but for some sources we need to dig deeper. Ask yourself, “How would someone else get here?”

In some cases—like a private conversation—the answer is, “They can’t.” No one else is privy to that conversation with your grandmother. The wisdom she passed on to you is not recoverable by other researchers, so it does not go in the reference list.

This kind of source (private letters and e-mail, personal conversations, phone calls, etc.) is called a personal communication (p. 179). Cite it in text only, give initials as well as the surname of the person involved, and give as precise a date as possible:

My grandmother’s advice was, “Never pass up a chance to eat, sit down, or use a clean restroom” (S. Dean, personal communication, May 14, 1980).

The same approach would apply to notes you took during a lecture, or class handouts that are not posted elsewhere (e.g., the instructor’s website), or a spontaneous piece of street theater.

What About Research Interviews?
One exception to this guideline applies to participants that you interview in your own research. These interviews are qualitative data; they’re part of the research on which you are reporting and do not constitute the work of others. They should never be individually cited or treated as personal communications in APA Style, because this could compromise confidentiality. Researchers are prohibited by the APA Ethics Code from disclosing personally identifying information about research participants (pp. 17—18). Depending on the circumstances, such information could include the date of the interview as well as surname and initials.

How then should you handle the need to quote from participant interviews? Some authors quote participants without distinguishing them at all, like this: “Indeed, a comment by one of our participants illustrates some of these complex issues: [quote follows without other attribution].”

Others identify participants by demographic or other data: “At my age I think we know who we are and what we are. (Female participant, 69 years of age).” You can also identify participants with letters (Participant A, Participant B), nicknames (Sonny, Tracey), or by role (Doctor, Patient).

Final Thoughts
As you write your paper, remember to cite previously published work that influenced you, that you have actually read, and that other researchers can recover. That will make your reference list both useful and complete.

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