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Patrias K, author; Wendling D, editor. Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers [Internet]. 2nd edition. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2007-.

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Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors, and Publishers [Internet]. 2nd edition.

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Chapter 13Letters and Other Personal Communication

Created: ; Last Update: August 11, 2015.

See also:

Chapter 14 Manuscripts

Chapter 26 Electronic Mail and Discussion Forums

Sample Citation and Introduction to Citing Letters and Other Personal Communication

The general format for a reference to a letter or other type of personal communication, including punctuation:

- letter:

Illustration for the general format for a reference to a letter.

- other personal communication:

Illustration for the general format for a reference to other type of personal communication.

Examples of Citations to Letters and Other Personal Communication

Documents generally available to scholars in an archive or a depository can usually be included in a reference list. However, many publishers do not permit placing any form of unpublished material in the end references. Most authorities recommend placing references to personal communications such as letters and conversations within the running text, not as formal end references. Include the nature and source of the cited information, using a term or terms to indicate clearly that no corresponding citation is in the reference list. Place the source information in parentheses. For example:

… and most of these meningiomas proved to be inoperable (2003 letter from RS Grant to me; unreferenced, see "Notes") while the few that …

Unless the letter resides in a library or other public archive, the author of a publication citing a letter must provide written permission from the cited person (if living) to the publisher or from the cited organization if it is carried in a document such as in internal memorandum that is not accessible to scholars. Acknowledge such permission in an "Acknowledgments" or a "Notes" section following the text of an article or at the end of a book's main text. Such statements may include additional details, such as the reason for the communication.

The rules below apply when a letter is included in a reference list rather than within the text as described above. Letters are similar to manuscripts in that they contain little information from which to construct a citation. They lack titles, and have no place of publication or publisher. References to letters differ from manuscripts in that they have a formal structure applied to clearly identify the author (initiator) and the recipient (receiver) of the communication. Because of the lack of other information to include in a citation to a letter, providing the full names for both author and recipient is recommended as well as any clarifying notes on its content.

For information on citing collections of letters, see Chapter 14 Manuscripts. For information on citing letters to the editors of journals, see Chapter 1A Journal Articles.

Most examples for citations to letters provided in this chapter are taken from the Modern Manuscripts Collection of the National Library of Medicine. Since the Collection is housed organizationally within the Library's History of Medicine Division, many items are historical in nature. However, the rules provided are applicable to contemporary material. Other types of personal communication, such as conversations, are not included in the examples for this chapter because they are so rarely seen in a reference list.

Continue to Citation Rules with Examples for Letters and Other Personal Communication.

Continue to Examples of Citations to Letters and Other Personal Communication.

Citation Rules with Examples for Letters and Other Personal Communication

Components/elements are listed in the order they should appear in a reference. An R after the component name means that it is required in the citation; an O after the name means it is optional.

Author (R) | Author Affiliation (O) | Connective Phrase (R) | Recipient (R) | Recipient Affiliation (O) | Date (R) | Pagination (O) | Language (R) | Notes (O)

Author for Personal Communication (required)

General Rules for Author

  • Enter surname (family or last name) first for the person initiating the communication
  • Capitalize surnames and enter spaces in surnames as they appear in the document cited. For example: Van Der Horn or van der Horn; De Wolf or de Wolf or DeWolf.
  • Follow the surname with a comma and a space
  • Enter the given (first) name and any middle name or initials; follow initials with periods
  • End author information with a period unless the Author Affiliation is given, then use a space

Specific Rules for Author

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Surnames with hyphens and other punctuation in them.

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Other surname rules.

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Given names containing punctuation, a prefix, a preposition, or particle.

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Degrees, titles, and honors before or after a personal name.

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Designations of rank in a family, such as Jr and III.

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Names in non-roman alphabets (Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Korean) or character-based languages (Chinese, Japanese).

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Organization as author.

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Title of author given.

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Options for author names.

Author Affiliation for Personal Communication (optional)

General Rules for Author Affiliation

  • Begin with the department and name of the institution, followed by city and state/Canadian province/country
  • Use commas to separate parts of the affiliation
  • Place the affiliation in parentheses, such as (Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Separate the affiliation from its author by a space
  • Follow the affiliation with a period placed outside the parentheses

Specific Rules for Author Affiliation

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Abbreviations in affiliations.

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E-mail address included.

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Titles in affiliations.

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Organizational names for affiliations not in English.

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Names for cities and countries not in English.

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No affiliation found.

Connective Phrase for Personal Communication (required)

General Rules for Connective Phrase

  • Use the phrase "Letter to", "Conversation with", or "Telephone conversation with" as appropriate
  • End the phrase with a colon and a space

Recipient for Personal Communication (required)

General Rules for Recipient

  • Enter the given (first) name and any middle name or initials of the person receiving the communication; follow initials with periods
  • Give the surname (family or last name)
  • Capitalize surnames and enter spaces in surnames as they appear in the document cited. For example: Van Der Horn or van der Horn; De Wolf or de Wolf or DeWolf.
  • End recipient information with a period unless the Recipient Affiliation is given, then use a space

Specific Rules for Recipient

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Surnames with hyphens and other punctuation in them.

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Other surname rules.

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Given names containing punctuation, a prefix, a preposition, or particle.

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Degrees, titles, and honors before or after a personal name.

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Designations of rank in a family, such as Jr and III.

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Names in non-roman alphabets (Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebrew, Korean) or character-based languages (Chinese, Japanese).

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Titles in recipient names.

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Organization as recipient.

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Options for recipient names.

Recipient Affiliation for Personal Communication (optional)

General Rules for Recipient Affiliation

  • Begin with the department and name of the institution, followed by city and state/Canadian province/country
  • Use commas to separate parts of the address
  • Place the affiliation in parentheses, such as (Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Separate the affiliation from the recipient by a space
  • Follow the affiliation with a period placed outside the parentheses

Specific Rules for Recipient Affiliation

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Abbreviations in affiliations.

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E-mail address included.

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Title in affiliations.

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Organizational names for affiliations not in English.

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Names for cities and countries not in English.

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No affiliation found.

Date for Personal Communication (required)

General Rules for Date

  • Begin with the year
  • Convert roman numerals to arabic numbers. For example: MM to 2000.
  • Include the month after the year, such as 2004 Mar
  • Use English names for months and abbreviate them to the first three letters
  • Include the day after the month, such as 2004 Mar 3
  • End date information with a period

Specific Rules for Date

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Non-US forms for dates.

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Non-English names for months.

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Seasons instead of months.

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No date can be found.

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Options for date.

Pagination for Personal Communication (optional)

General Rules for Pagination

  • If the pages of a letter are numbered, provide the total number of pages
  • Follow the page total with a space and the letter p
  • If the pages of a letter are not numbered, provide the total number of sheets of paper on which the letter appears
  • Follow the page total with the word leaf or leaves
  • End pagination information in both cases with a period

Specific Rules for Pagination

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Roman numerals used as page numbers.

Language for Personal Communication (required)

General Rules for Language

  • Give the language of communication if not English
  • Capitalize the language name
  • Follow the language name with a period

Examples for Language

Notes for Personal Communication (optional)

General Rules for Notes

  • Notes is a collective term for any type of useful information given after the citation itself
  • Complete sentences are not required
  • Be brief

Specific Rules for Notes

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Name and location of a public archive.

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Restrictions on use.

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Other types of material to include in notes.

Examples of Citations to Letters and Other Personal Communication

1. Standard citation to a letter

Anfinsen, Christian B. (Department of Biology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD). Letter to: Cyril Ponnamperuma (University of Maryland, College Park, MD). 1991 Apr 23. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 496, Box 8, Folder 3.

Reed, Walter (Army Medical Museum, Washington, DC). Letter to: W.S. Halstead (Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD). 1985 Apr 10. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 200.

2. Letter with optional initials for author and recipient

Reed W. (Army Medical Museum, Washington, DC). Letter to: W.S. Halstead (Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD). 1985 Apr 10. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 200.

3. Letter providing only initials for author and recipient

Colt, P. (Rome, NY). Letter to: M. Goshall (Hartford, CT). 1809 Mar 4. 4 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 312.

4. Letter with a title for the recipient rather than a name

Mayard, T.F. (Department of State, Washington, DC). Letter to: Secretary of War (Washington, DC). 1888 Feb 16. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 269.

Wells, Horace (Hartford, CT). Letter to: Dr. Morton ([Boston, MA]). 1846 Oct 20. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 176.

with name added as title

Mayard, T.F. (Department of State, Washington, DC). Letter to: Secretary of War [William Endicott] (Washington, DC). 1888 Feb 16. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 269.

Wells, Horace (Hartford, CT). Letter to: Dr. Morton [William Thomas Morton] ([Boston, MA]). 1846 Oct 20. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 176.

5. Letter with organization as author

Mason Chemical Company (Philadelphia, PA). Letter to: Abram Claude (Annapolis, MD). 1897 Dec 24. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 283.

Joseph Eastman Sanitorium (Indianapolis, IN). Letter to: Wm. E. Lybrook (Young America, IN). 1904 Nov 17. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 358.

6. Letter with author's title included in affiliation

Blue, Rupert (Surgeon General, Bureau of the Public Health Service, Treasury Department, Washington, DC). Letter to: Wm. H. Welch (American Red Cross, Paris, FR). 1919 Mar 18. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 211.

Loper, Richard L. (General Manager, Guarantors Liability Indemnity Company of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA). Letter to: Dear Sirs. 1 leaf. [1895?]. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 274.

7. Letter with place inferred

Nightingale, Florence (115 Park Street, W, [London, GB]). Letter to: Marquis Townshend. 1864 Jul 27. 4 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 179.

Pina, Luciano (Santiago, Chile). Letter to: D.M. Arroyo de Veracruz ([Mexico]). 1845 Jun 26. 4 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 196. Spanish.

8. Letter with standard date

Wheaton, Levi (Providence, RI). Letter to: Moses Younglove (Cornwall, CT). 1800 Dec 18. 3 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 293.

9. Letter with date estimated

Bell, John ([Edinburgh, Scotland]). Letter to: Cadell and Davies, Book Sellers ([London, England]). [1793?]. 8 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 291.

Loper, Richard L. (General Manager, Guarantors Liability Indemnity Company of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA). Letter to: Dear Sirs. 1 leaf. [1895?]. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 274.

10. Letter with unnumbered pages

Wheaton, Levi (Providence, RI). Letter to: Moses Younglove (Cornwall, CT). 1800 Dec 18. 3 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 293.

11. Letter with numbered pages

Kerr, J. Auston (Chevy Chase, MD). Letter to: Ramon Cordoba Palacio (Medellin, Colombia). 1974 Nov 11. 11 p. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 456.

12. Letter in a language other than English

de Lucretiis, Gaetano (San Severo, Italy). Letter to: D. Biagio Michetelli (Puglia, Italy). 1807 Nov 13. 9 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 214. Italian.

Pina, Luciano (Santiago, Chile). Letter to: D.M. Arroyo de Veracruz ([Mexico]). 1845 Jun 26. 4 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 196. Spanish.

13. Letter with an accompaniment

Blue, Rupert (Surgeon General, US Public Health Service, Washington, DC). Letter to: Wm. H. Welch (American Red Cross, Paris, FR). 1919 Mar 18. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 211. Accompanied by: Blue's "Memorandum Relative to the Development of National and International Programs of Public Health."

Mayard, T.F. (Department of State, Washington, DC). Letter to: Secretary of War [William Endicott] (Washington, DC). 1888 Feb 16. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 269. Accompanied by: El Comerrio newsclipping written by Dr. David Matto.

14. Letter with note

Reed, Walter (Army Medical Museum, Washington, DC). Letter to: W.S. Halstead (Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD). 1985 Apr 10. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 200. Letter asking if Halsted could perform a hernia operation on the carpenter of the Army Medical Museum.

Wheaton, Levi (Providence, RI). Letter to: Moses Younglove (Cornwall, CT). 1800 Dec 18. 3 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 293. Wheaton thanks Younglove for a cowpox sample and describes his experiments with smallpox.

Kerr, J. Auston (Chevy Chase, MD). Letter to: Ramon Cordoba Palacio (Medellin, Colombia). 1974 Nov 11. 11 p. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS C 456. Contains reminiscences of Kerr's experiences in Colombia studying yellow fever for the Rockefeller Foundation in its laboratories from 1932 to 1938.

Nightingale, Florence (115 Park Street, W, [London, GB]). Letter to: Marquis Townshend. 1864 Jul 27. 4 leaves. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 179. Nightingale responds to Townshend's request on behalf of a Mrs. Montague for funds to support old nurses.

Wells, Horace (Hartford, CT). Letter to: Dr. Morton [William Thomas Morton] ([Boston, MA]). 1846 Oct 20. 1 leaf. Located at: Modern Manuscripts Collection, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; MS F 176. Comments on the first use of Morton's anesthesia device.

Hennen, John (Edinburgh, Scotland). Letter to: Dr. Duncan. [date unknown]. 9 p. Located at: History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD; W6 P3 v.1575. Observations on the cure of syphilis without mercury.

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