My boss cites email to him as "Private communication". I want to cite email from a subject matter expert to a number of individuals (of which I was not one in the original message). It is not private nor personal because it involved 3-4 recipients. And it is wasn't initially sent to me. How does one cite this?

1 Answer 1


"Private" doesn't mean just one recipient; it just means "not public". When you throw a by-invitation party in your home it's a private affair even if there are 50 people there. Email is the same way.

The bigger problem here is that the person you're citing didn't write directly to you. So if you cite "Harry Q. Bovik, private communication" and somebody asks him about it, he's likely to say "huh? I've never heard of user36800".

If it's feasible, your best course of action would be to write to the expert and ask if you can cite him. If so, then you now have your private communication and can proceed.

If that's not practical, the most honest way to do it would be something like "Harry Q. Bovik as reported by Joe Shmoe, private communication". I've seen that sort of citation in less-formal writing; I don't think I've ever seen it in a journal article or book, though I rarely see private communication there to begin with.

  • Thanks, Monica. I clicked the upvote, but I probably don't have enough reputation for it to be of any effect. My solution was to not attribute the communication directly to the sender of the original message. It was to attribute the communication to the person who forwarded it to me. That forwarder is basically providing me with his organization's answer, with the original email from the subject matter expert as substantiation. There wasn't much in the body of the forwarder's message (it was empty!). His organization was simply adopting the position of the subject matter expert.
    – user36800
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 14:39
  • @user36800 that sounds like a good solution. Thanks for letting us know how it worked out. You need 15 rep to upvote, so you're most of the way there. See you around! Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 14:48

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