Personal communications in APA style

In APA Style, a personal communication is any source that is not publicly accessible. Personal communications are cited in the text, but not included in the reference list.


Another researcher stated that the results so far looked “very promising” (A. Smith, personal communication, July 15, 2015).

What is a personal communication?

A personal communication is any source you refer to that the reader will not be able to access – either because it was not recorded, is deliberately kept private for reasons of confidentiality, or is accessible only to a specific group (e.g. members of a particular institution).

Because the reader cannot look up these sources independently, APA Style states that it is not appropriate to include them in a reference list. The point of a reference list is to allow the reader to find your sources, so inaccessible sources do not belong there.

Some common examples of sources that should be treated as personal communications include:

  • Private conversations, emails, letters and messages
  • Interviews with (and survey responses from) research participants
  • Private social media content
  • Unrecorded performances and lectures

How to cite personal communications

When citing a personal communication in your text, you only need to give the person’s initials and last name, the words “personal communication,” and the date of the communication in parentheses:

(F. Davidson, personal communication, January 12, 2017)

If it’s relevant or important to the reader’s understanding, you can specify the type of communication involved:

When contacted for comment, Johnson stated that the controversy was “absurd” (H. Johnson, email, March 5, 2019).
During the performance, the term “Anthropocene” was used repeatedly (J. Wilson, performance, March 13, 2018).

Private messages on social media are always personal communications. Other social media content should also be cited as personal communication if it is not public – that is, if it can only be accessed by members of a specific group or friends of a specific user:

Members of the online community followed the controversy closely, with one user referring to it as a “media circus” (G. Richards, comment in a private Facebook group, April 25, 2018).

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Citing your research participants

Quotes from your research participants, such as interviewees and survey respondents, are also treated as personal communications, but they are often anonymized for reasons of confidentiality.

There are several ways of handling this. Where it is not important to distinguish participants from each other, you can simply refer to them without any specific attribution:

One participant stated that…

Where more detail is appropriate, you might want to distinguish participants by personal characteristics like age, profession, or gender:

(male participant, 52 years old)

Where it’s important to be able to refer to specific participants, you can use false names (as long as you clarify somewhere that this is what you’re doing) or codenames:

Participant D stated that…
A participant named John (names used throughout are pseudonyms) referred to…

Note that it’s usually unnecessary to include dates in these references, as the dates of the interviews should generally be specified in your methodology section.

Check out other APA examples

AppsCommercial Radio/TV
Conference paperDissertation of another student
FacebookForum post
Internal documents (Intranet)Lecture slides/ handouts
PDF documentPress release
SoftwareStatistic database
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How to cite an interview in APA stylePersonal communications in APA style
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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

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