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Citing a Letter in Footnotes & in the Bibliography


Having the opportunity to engage directly with a primary source may benefit an academic paper immeasurably. However, citing personal communication, like a letter, defies the familiar protocol for academic references. The Modern Language Association and American Psychological Association format footnotes and bibliographic citations of letters in decidedly different styles, but both guides request minimal information, making the processes straightforward and efficient.

MLA: Citing a Letter in a Footnote

  1. Enter the first and last names of the letter’s writer.
  2. Place a comma at the end of the last name and leave a space.
  3. Type “letter to” followed by the name of the recipient. If you are the recipient, type “the author” instead of your name.
  4. Add a comma and leave a space.
  5. Enter the date on the letter in day-month-year format. Abbreviate the month, place a period after the abbreviation and end the entry with a period.
  6. According to the seventh edition of the MLA handbook, you must indicate a typed letter by adding the notation “TS.” after the date.

Example:

Barack Obama, letter to the author, 20 Jan. 2013. TS.

MLA: Citing a Letter on a Works Cited Page

  1. Enter the writer’s last name followed by a comma. Leave a space.
  2. Enter the writer's first name followed by a period.
  3. Type “Letter to” followed by the name of the recipient. If you are the recipient, type “the author” instead of your name. Add a period.
  4. Enter the date on the letter in day-month-year format. Abbreviate the month, place a period after the abbreviation and end the entry with a period.
  5. If the letter is typed, make the notation “TS.” after the date.

Example:

Obama, Barack. Letter to the author. 20 Jan. 2013. TS.

APA: Citing a Letter in a Footnote

Some instructors and writing guides encourage authors to obtain permission to reprint a personal letter from the writer. To cite permission in an APA footnote, do the following:

  1. Enter the italicized word “Note.”
  2. Type “From personal communication by” followed by the writer’s first initial and a period.
  3. Leave a space, then enter the writer's last name.
  4. Add a comma and leave another space.
  5. Cite the date on the letter in month-day-year format. Spell out the month and place a comma after the day. Place a period at the end of the date.
  6. End the citation with the phrase “Reprinted with permission.”

Example:

Note [italicized]. From personal communication by B. Obama, January 20, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

APA: Citing a Letter in a Bibliography

According to the sixth edition of the APA manual, you do not need to list personal correspondence in your APA bibliography or reference list. Citing the letter parenthetically in your primary text is sufficient. To cite the letter in the text, do the following:

  1. Make an open parenthesis.
  2. Enter the writer’s first initial followed by a period and a space.
  3. Type the writer’s last name followed by a comma and a space.
  4. Enter the phrase “personal communication” followed by a comma and a space.
  5. Type the date in month-day-year format. Spell out the month and place a comma after the day.
  6. Add a closed parenthesis after the year.

Example:

(B. Obama, personal communication, January 20, 2013)

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.

Photo Credits
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