Tuesday, April 16, 2013

APA Formatting and Citations: Personal Communication

Don't keep your source content hidden!
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Every piece of source information used in an essay must be cited.  Source information is information that comes from a source. To cite a source is to give credit where credit is due.


In an essay cited in APA style, the source information must be cited in two different places.  First, the writer must cite information in the paper with the sentence in which the source information is used.  These “in-text” citations let a reader know which pieces of information in the text of the paper came from a source.  The writer must also cite that same source on the references page.  The references page entries give the reader and the writer enough information to find the original sources of information, again.  Both sets of citations play their own roles and have their own purpose.

However, there is one exception to the “cite-every-piece-of-information-in-two-places” rule.  The exception to the rule is when source information comes from a piece of personal communication.

Example of an In-Text Citation for Personal Communication 

If a writer is composing a paper about effectively managing an art supply store, he or she might contact the manager of an art supply store to ask a few questions.  The contact could be via email, in person, or over the phone.  If the information is helpful, the writer may choose to include a few of the ideas in his or her paper.  Because the ideas did not originate with the writer, the writer must cite the responses in the text of the paper.  In order to give credit where credit is due, the writer must indicate, in the text of the paper, which ideas came from the manager of the art supply store.  The writer will use quotation marks, introductory phrases, and in-text citations to indicate the information that came from the personal communication.  In fact, the writer will actually use the phrase “personal communication” in the in-text citation.  

Take a look at the following example, which uses the introductory phrase “according to,” the name and credentials of the source in the sentence, a direct quote in quotation marks, and an in-text parenthetical citation at the end of the sentence:

According to Fred Pohler, manager at Arts and Arts and Arts art supply store in Newark, effectively managing an art supply store requires not only an understanding of how to manage a business, but also an extensive knowledge of a vast array of art supplies (personal communication, September 23, 2013).

Example of a References Citation for Personal Communication 

Step two in citing this source is for the writer to determine whether or not Fred Pohler’s statements can be looked up or seen by others.  For example, if Fred answered the interview questions, and the writer posted the answers as a Blogger post, his answers can be seen by others, and the writer must cite the blog on the references page as a blog post.  The responses are not personal communication, and the in-text citation should be revised.  However, if Fred answered the questions in an email, and no one else but the writer can see those answers, then there will be only the in-text citation, no references citation.
Remember, the purpose of the references citation is to record the information necessary for the writer or reader to find the information, again.  Since the information cannot be found, as it’s not published for the public to read, there is no reason for it to be on the references page.


Just remember, when in doubt about what constitutes a piece of “personal communication,” ask whether the information the writer has used has been given only to the writer, or if it can be looked up or seen by others.  If the answer is “Yes, it can be looked up by others,” the information should not be cited as personal communication. 

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