For my bachelor thesis I needed a certain source. As it wasn't accessible neither on the net, nor in my library, I decided to ask the author directly. She was kind enough to send me a draft of the text in question, explicitly allowing me to use it for private academic purpose.

Now I'm in the middle of my thesis. How do I cite a draft that doesn't even have a date? If I had the published version, I'd simply cross-reference, but I don't, and adding the page number of a word document that my supervisor doesn't have seems utterly useless. Do I simply leave out the page number (it's a very short paper), or do I add the paper as an attachment?

I know this is something I'd normally ask my supervisor. Unfortunately, communication with her is not something I'm interested in, for personal reasons. I'm therefore looking for a reasonable advice that has nothing to do with her preferences.

3 Answers 3


If it has been published, ask the author for a pdf of the published version (from your question I got the feeling that the paper has been published). This would also be easier to share with your supervisor later on. It makes no sense to cite or quote a draft version if the paper has been published. At least ask if the draft has identical content as the published version. If so, you could maybe get away with using the draft but citing the published version in your reference list (not ideal though).

Otherwise, cite it as a working paper/draft, by including author, title, and the date when you recieved the paper, see e.g. Chicago manual of style online or MLA style guide.


It's not clear from your question what the status of this "source" is --- i.e., whether it has been published, will be published, or may never be published.

If it has been published, but you just didn't have access to the published version, I would cite the published version. If you have a quote where you need to cite the page number, I would go ahead and cite the page number from the draft. Although others might disagree with this practice, I've found it's not uncommon to find page-number citations that are off by a page or two due to citing different versions of a paper, different editions of a book, etc.

If it has not been published but is "in the pipeline" (i.e., has been submitted to a journal), you can cite it as "forthcoming", or as "to appear" if it has been accepted.

If it is unknown whether it will ever be published (i.e., it is just a work in progress that may or may not be submitted for publication at some later date), you can cite it as "in prep", "unpublished ms.", or "personal communication". Personally I tend to view "in prep" as meaning "the author intends to publish this at some point but it's far enough in the future that we don't know where or when", "unpublished ms." as meaning "there is little chance this will ever be published", and "personal communication" as "this was not even written as an article-type document but just information conveyed to me via email, conversation, etc.".


I know only two ways:

  1. you write "Author, private communication" in your references;
  2. you publish the unpublished material and add its author as an author of your paper.
  • 1
    "you publish the unpublished material and add its author as an author of your paper." Say what?
    – xLeitix
    Jan 10, 2014 at 17:44
  • @xLeitix. I meant "you publish the draft, partially or entirely" and of course add the name of its author to your paper.
    – Tom-Tom
    Jan 10, 2014 at 18:18
  • 2
    You can't just publish somebody else's draft, no matter what you do with author names. Especially since the draft in question apparently is already published, just not available to the OP.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 10, 2014 at 19:21
  • 5
    Also, please don't add people to your author list without consulting them first. I would be furious if that happened to me.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 10, 2014 at 19:22

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