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Citing Personal Communications in Harvard Style

Published by at August 30th, 2021 , Revised On November 11, 2021

What is personal communication?

Researchers, especially during qualitative research, often use questionnaires and/or surveys as preferred data collection methods. As such, they must later transcribe either complete interview answers given by their participants or respondents or parts of the responses most relevant to the research at hand.

 

Did you know: Respondent is a term used when the research sample is given a questionnaire or is interviewed. But in the case of surveys, it’s research participants, not respondents.

In either case, the researcher is said to be ‘quoting’ their research participants or respondents. These quotes, however, are not the same as the quotes of a celebrity, for instance, found on the web. Unlike those quotes, participant quotes cannot be accessed online by their readers since they are not present on the web. They are responses quoted by the research himself/herself.

Interview responses, research participant quotes, emails, telephonic calls, letters, lectures, and even faxes are all forms of personal communication. Therefore, while citing such responses, they aren’t explicitly referred to as responses, quotes, emails, etc., but the generic term of ‘personal communication’ is used instead.

 

In-Text Citation and Reference Formats with Examples

Citation formats in Harvard for citing personal communications are different from other citations of the same kind. The main reason behind that is the fact that such communication material is not officially published anywhere. When a researcher publishes their research, only then can personal communications become officially known by the general public.

This is also why reference list entries are NOT created for personal communication items. They are not published online anywhere; readers do not have access to them. Therefore, their reference list entries are not needed.

Only in-text citations are written for personal communications. Their formats, along with some examples, are given below.

In Harvard referencing, the basics of in-text citation for personal communications involve the following details:

Author/Researcher/Interviewer (communicator).

Year

Format description (whether it’s an email, a letter or something else)

Day and Month the personal communication took place.

An important point to note: Details related to personal communication (besides those mentioned above) are generally not included in the citations. However, it is still important to first obtain permission from those whose responses or direct quotes will be cited in the text.

Furthermore, it should be noted that while citing personal communications of any kind in Harvard style, the year is written after the initial name, followed by surname, and finally the day and Month the communication took place.

The basic format, therefore, to cite ANY type of personal communication in the text according to Harvard style is:

In-text citation: (Initial Surname Year, pers. comm., Day Month)

Reference list entry: Not needed.

Here are some examples of different types of personal communications cited according to Harvard style:

In-text citations:

  1. (J Smith 2008, pers. comm., 2 July) OR

J Smith (2008, pers. comm., 2 July) said …

  1. The Vice Chancellor’s statement was confirmed during an interview (P Dawkins 2011, personal communication, 11 October). OR

During an interview conducted on 11 October 2011, Prof Peter Dawkins stated that …

  1. One participant, David, stated in an interview (Richards, David 2019, personal communication, 3 March) that he found the experience “very challenging” (full interview transcripts are presented in Appendix A). OR

During an interview conducted on 3 March, one participant, David, stated that he found the experience “very challenging” (full interview transcripts are presented in Appendix A).

  1. An email (L. Singh 2020, personal communication, April 24) with one of the researchers involved in the project clarified that it was “still ongoing”.
  2. Another researcher stated that the results so far looked “very promising” (A. Smith 2015, personal communication, 15 July).
  3. (F. Davidson 2017, personal communication, 12 January)
  4. When contacted for comment, Johnson stated in an email that the controversy was “absurd” (H. Johnson 2019, personal communication, 5 March 5).
  5. During the performance, the term “Anthropocene” was used repeatedly (J. Wilson 2918, performance, 13 March).
  6. Members of the online community followed the controversy closely, with one user referring to it as a “media circus” (G. Richards 2018, comment in a private Facebook group, 25 April).

 

Terms like ‘comment in a Facebook group’ such as those mentioned in the last example above are called descriptors. If the kind of personal communication that is being cited is neither an email, letter, interview, or any of the other common types of communications mentioned above, a brief description is written in the citation.

Note: If the format of the personal communication (such as the terms’ interview,’ ‘comment,’ or ’email’ etc.) is to be italicized, it should first be checked with the institution, whether it has specified this rule or not. Otherwise, it’s a personal choice, but it should be kept the same throughout the manuscript.

 

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