Suppose I meet a scholar at my university or some other institute, who is a famous person known for his or her work. and I ask questions related to the subject I am working on, and I get some answers or other useful information. Ethically, can I cite this meeting in my paper or not? (Provided I do tell the person that I am working on something related, etc.)

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    Does this person know you will be citing your conversation with them? Did they know before starting the conversation (their answers might be slightly different if they do vs they don't)? Are you gonna let the person proofread your citations? This could affect their professional reputation.
    – Kevin
    Aug 16, 2016 at 10:46
  • Yes as i said that they will be aware of that, i am meeting them in relation to some work. I will not agree on citations proof reading, as in that case we should also let the published work authors to proof read in case we mention some weakness in their work. Any how a personal meeting can be challenged as never took place in case of conflict. Aug 16, 2016 at 16:33
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    The difference is that any published work you cite is already proofread before publishing and written with the knowledge that it will be available to the public, a conversation is completely different.
    – Kevin
    Aug 16, 2016 at 18:20

4 Answers 4


Strictly speaking, yes. The APA style, among others, does have instructions on how to cite private conversations (see https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/11/ for an example), but in practice I've never seen it been used in psychology (or natural science) papers. This is probably because a personal conversation cannot be easily verified, which makes such citations less useful. One thing you can do is to track down the relevant papers and thank your colleague in the acknowledgement section.

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    The one time I cited a Personal Communication as a reference, the journal requested that the person I was communicating send a letter asserting that, yes, he had in fact said that thing. I don't know what would have happened had the person been unavailable, but I had the strong impression that the journal editors would have requested that we re-do that section and not include the pers. comm.
    – iayork
    Aug 16, 2016 at 12:00
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    Verification aside, usually the important thing is not that "expert x" said something. It's science after all. So I'd question whether the information isn't published anywhere (it should be) and cite that. If not, e.g., if it is about a research idea, I wonder too whether acknowledgements wouldn't be a better place. But as arguments go, citing an expert alone is a very weak link in the chain. Aug 16, 2016 at 12:40
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    We were reluctant to include a Personal Communication because it was unscientific and, in itself, difficult to verify -- but the communication was on the order of "Yes, we accidentally swapped these values in the table and the correction hasn't been published yet because the journal is slow", so there didn't seem to be any way around it.
    – iayork
    Aug 16, 2016 at 12:52
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    Hmm, not clear to me why getting information from a scientist in a personal conversation is "less scientific" than getting exactly the same information from a journal article written by that same scientist. Citing an expert per se doesn't prove anything, that's the classic logical fallacy of "appeal to authority". But if in a conversation he relates the results of an experiment he has performed, I'd think that's exactly as valuable as getting it from a published paper. Yes, the published paper has the advantage of being easier to verify, perhaps less prone to errors in transcription. ...
    – Jay
    Aug 16, 2016 at 17:58
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    Perhaps the important question is about why this (cited) statement is needed in the paper? If your conclusions depend on this statement (e.g. fact about reality) being true, then you need to provide some evidence that it is so, and "Bob told me something like this" really isn't enough. However, if your conclusions don't rely on it, but your work was helped by ideas from this unpublished information, then it would be appropriate to simply put it in acknowledgements as this answer suggests; there's no real need to make up something to cite if there's nothing useful to reader that can be cited.
    – Peteris
    Aug 16, 2016 at 19:51

If at all possible, follow Drecate's advice and cite the relevant papers.

If this isn't possible (e.g. a scientist told you about an unpublished observation in their group, like, "Oh yes, we often saw that, but never got around to writing it up."), citing a "personal communication" is appropriate.

HOWEVER, if you do this, the person you are citing should know about it! I would send them a copy of your draft before you submit it. This avoids circumstances where 1) you misunderstood them, and they didn't say what you thought they did, or 2) they thought they were speaking "off the record," and don't want to be cited in support of this point, or 3) you are "spoiling" their result by announcing it before they publish.


Yes, it is possible, and I have done this once or twice. As others have said, it is better to cite a published document if possible, but (Smith, pers. comm.) is sometimes acceptable: typically if it's for a minor point that referees are unlikely to dispute, or for a minor detail of published work that didn't make it into the published version.


  • "Liu and Smith (2006) used 15mm glass culture tubes for their samples (Liu, pers. comm.)"
  • "Environmental managers report that farmers in this region generally do not trust models (Freeman, pers. comm.) so we took a participatory modelling approach to increase trust and transparency, following the advice of Jones (2011)."

Yes - but don't use that as a crutch for taking sole credit for a result that's not entirely your own.

If you're writing a paper in which that is a significant part of the novelty, try to make him/her a co-author; or otherwise coordinate with that person, since you're working on the basis of his/her idea to a great extent. Another option you could offer him/her, if they don't want to be cited, is a thank you note for useful discussion regarding XYZ.

If you're writing something in which the citation is not part of the novelty of the work, it's simpler and more obvious that you just cite a "personal communication" like other answers suggest.

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