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Citing an Email or Letter


To achieve a complete, credible academic paper, you must cite all of your sources, even if they are unpublished personal communications, like an email or letter. While the American Psychological Association and Modern Language Association style guides have similar rules for citing most sources, their guidelines differ dramatically when it comes to citing personal communications. Fortunately, both APA and MLA offer concise, efficient directions for crafting proper email and letter citations.

Placement

The most important difference between APA and MLA citation standards for emails and letters is where they instruct writers to place the references in the paper. The 6th edition of the APA manual only asks writers to cite personal communications in their primary text. Therefore, if you are using APA format, you do not need to include a reference for an email or letter. Conversely, the 7th edition of the MLA manual requires writers to include both in-text citations and references for all sources, including personal communications.

APA: In-Text Citations

At the end of the sentence or clause in which you cite a personal communication, make an open parenthesis. Type the author’s first initial and a period. Leave a space, then enter the last name followed by a comma. Note that the source is a “personal communication.” Add another comma. Type the date on the email or letter in month-day-year format. Spell out the month and insert a comma after the day. End the citation with a closed parenthesis. For example: (A. Lincoln, personal communication, April 1, 2013). The final punctuation for your sentence or clause comes after the closed parenthesis.

MLA: In-Text Citations

At the end of the sentence or clause in which you cite a personal communication, make an open parenthesis. Type the author’s last name followed by a closed parenthesis. Unlike most in-text citations, you do not need to give a page number for the sourced content, even if the email or letter contained multiple pages. For example: (Lincoln). The final punctuation for your sentence or clause comes after the closed parenthesis.

MLA: References

Type the author’s last name followed by a comma. Leave a space and enter the author’s full first name. Add a period. If the source is an email, enter the subject of the email enclosed in quotation marks and insert a period before the closed quotation mark. State, “Message to” followed by the name of the recipient. If the correspondence was addressed to you, refer to yourself as “the author.” Place a period after the recipient's name. Enter the date on the email or letter in day-month-year format. Abbreviate the month. Add periods after the month and the year. Note the type of personal communication followed by a period. For example:

Lincoln, Abraham. “Re: Gettysburg Address.” Message to the author. 1 Apr. 2013. Email.

Lincoln, Abraham. Message to the author. 1 Apr. 2013. Letter.

About the Author

Grace Riley has been a writer and photographer since 2005, with work appearing in magazines and newspapers such as the "Arkansas Democrat-Gazette." She has also worked as a school teacher and in public relations and polling analysis for political campaigns. Riley holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in American studies, political science and history, all from the University of Arkansas.