Sometimes it happens to me that I have a discussion with someone and he presents part of his unpublished works to me that help improving parts of my research.

Sometimes I use them in a paper in the way that after informing the person, I cite the results in my papers often by attaching that person’s name to his theorems and bringing them as unpublished notes or personal communication at the references. But I’m not sure whether the way that I cite such results is really correct or not.

  • this pretty much depends on where you submit your work.
    – Math-fun
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 10:16
  • @Math-fun How? Please explain more.
    – Researcher
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 10:17
  • As I saw commonly in papers: you may write as a foot-note "in communication with ...." or in the acknowledgement, you can mentions "..I thank him for useful discussion on theorem ...".
    – Groups
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 10:19
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    @Researcher: I saw in some books "R. Researcher, personal communication, 2015", say.
    – Yes
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 10:33
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    It's also reasonable to include an explicit acknowledgement in the text. "The following proof is due to Nicolai Bourbaki (personal communication) and is included here with their permission."
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


In this case, if you wish to include a content originated from your peer in your manuscript, you ought to first get his consent. Since you may not be able to cite this in the References section as you cannot cite conversations, you may attribute the originator in the Acknowledgments section regarding this fact.

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    In mathematics you can cite conversations (as "personal communications") as well as unpublished documents. Of course this is inferior to a published source, because it's harder for readers to access and it's not permanently archived, but it's acceptable when necessary. Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 17:03
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    @Anonymous: Certainly you can reference "personal communications" and you should if you've used them. It is not unheard of for these personal communications to appear in the bibliography of a paper....but isn't that a bit silly? The point of a bibliography is to point the reader to the place where they can access the referenced information. If no additional information is provided, I'm not sure I understand what is gained by putting it in the bibliography. Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 21:36
  • @PeteL.Clark: One issue with personal communications is that ephemerality forms a spectrum, roughly from hallway conversation to letter to uncirculated manuscript to preprint to published paper, with various stages in between. The accessibility of the material varies as well: even if a letter is unpublished, I may be willing to share a copy informally, and it may eventually end up as part of the scholarly record if the writer or recipient is famous enough or decides to publish the material. Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 14:35
  • One purpose to citing a personal communication in the bibliography is to hint that more details may be available to those who ask (without promising anything one doesn't have the legal right to distribute publicly). Published sources are generally the best, but I don't see any absolute dividing line regarding accessibility or permanence. Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 14:35
  • I agree that citing conversations is not useful for future reference, since they are completely ephemeral. However, this can still send a signal about the importance or future publishability of the contribution. Referring to a personal communication without formally citing it may indicate that it's a less significant contribution, while citing it may be a sign that future readers should check to see whether this person published it later. That can be a worthwhile distinction to make. Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 14:35

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