Citing Personal E-Mail: Example of a 'Full' Citation
If you were writing a paper about musicians in university orchestras, and
had received an e-mailed comment from Jane Smith, violinist in the
Stanford University student orchestra, then according to current MLA
style (see note following this example) your full citation would be:
Smith, Jane (<email@example.com>). [Violinist in
the Stanford University student orchestra.] In the Stanford Orchestra,
Violins Rule! E-mail sent on Friday, 02 October 2004 at 0935
The above example contains four 'elements', as follows:
- First, the e-mail is listed in your Works Cited in standard 'Lastname,
Firstname' format by its sender, Jane Smith. However, according to
current MLA specifications, also included in the first 'element' of an
e-mail citation (before the first period, since it is part of the 'name'
element), would be Jane Smith's e-mail address (see note below).
Note that parentheses (*) are used for the
e-mail address, as the address is an MLA-specified 'supplementary'
expansion of Jane Smith's identity;
- This is then followed by the second element, a brief description of
who "Jane Smith" is as concerns her 'qualification' to comment on
university orchestra musicians. This would not be part of the citations
for most printed material, but is necessary for the citations of e-mail
and interviews, etc., where the "author's" identity and authority is not
generally known. This is the "documenting" aspect referred to in the title
of this page.
Note that brackets [*] are used for this 'extra' element,
as it is a 'documentary' supplement added at the discretion of the paper's
author, rather than being specified as such by MLA;
- Then, the 'title' is given as the third element of the citation.
is generally the 'Subject' line of an e-mail message;
- Finally, the fourth element gives the date and time the message was
sent (or received), taken from the message header data. When giving the
date and time, it is recommended to use the time the note was sent
rather than "received," following the logic of when a book was published
rather than when you read it. [However, generally either way is okay as
long as one is consistent.]
Note: Should the E-mail Address Be Included in the Works Cited?
Current MLA style specifies that the e-mail address of the sender be
included in the citation, since this is the only means of identifying
precisely who "Jane Smith" is. For identification purposes, which is
important for academic citations, this is logical. It may also be
necessary in cases of common names like "Jane Smith" especially
if the person is not known personally to the author of the paper or is not
a well-known, "established" figure.
However, putting personal e-mail addresses online in a published paper
means that these addresses will likely be captured by "spambots," and
could thus be considered an invasion of privacy. Moreover, if the person
sending the note is known by the author of the paper, or is a well-known
figure, or the identity has been clearly identified in the body of the
paper, it may not be necessary to include the e-mail address in the
citation to identify the sender. Therefore most of the following
citations do NOT have the e-mail address included.
Whether to include the address in your citations or not will normally
depend on whether you know the person who sent the note, or whether the
person is well-enough known to make further identification unnecessary.
NB: you must always keep the e-mail address for your own
records; the question here is whether to include it in the Works Cited
entry as current MLA style prescribes.
However, in the examples given below of "Whizz
Kidd" (or any other name that is probably not real), one should put
the address to identify from where the mail came. In such cases there is
no risk of "invasion of privacy" since the name of the sender in the
address is not the legal name of a real person.
Less-Detailed Examples of "Jane Smith" Citations
The following shortened forms of the above citation could also be
used, depending on how well you have already identified "Jane Smith" in
your paper, and what level of detail is needed in context for the
- Smith, Jane. In the Stanford Orchestra, Violins
Rule! E-mail sent on Friday, 02 October 2004 at 0935 PST.
[This omits the 'description' of Jane Smith]
- Smith, Jane. In the Stanford Orchestra, Violins Rule!
E-mail sent Friday, 02 October 2004.
[This also omits the exact time the note had been sent]
If there had been no 'Subject' in Jane's note to use as a 'Title', then
that element would have to be omitted. In this case, the bare minimum for
an e-mail citation would be the following (assuming that the text of your
paper had clearly identified who Jane Smith was and in what sense she was
able to comment on the topic of your paper):
- Smith, Jane. E-mail note sent on Friday, 02 October 2004.