I have several email conversations I would like to cite in my PhD thesis. The bibliography style that I'm using is \bibliographystyle{IEEEtranSN}.

I know that style is not IEEE compliant in a strict way, but comes good enough for me as I'm actually defining the template (as described in this question: When should I upload my new style?).

Now, according to this post: Citing personal correspondence with function of cited person via email?, Esteis wrote:

I'd stick "Personal communication" in howpublished

However, the answer is not complete as for which entry (@article, @inproceedings, etc.) and what should really be the IEEE standard for this.

According to IEEEtran_bst_HOWTO documentation pdf:

Private communication entries can be created using the misc type with a note indicating “private communication” or “personal correspondence”, etc.

So, the "solution" should be to add a @misc entry in your .bib file, something like this:

  author        = "S. Konyagin",
  howpublished  = "private communication",
  year          = "1998"

However, this seems rather incomplete. Shouldn't we define what type of communication it was (forums, letters, emails, phone talks, etc.)? Should we create a new entry for each conversation? For each day? What should really be the right way to do this?

  • I would suggest the note, the addendum or the type field. With type you can specify unsupported types that are otherwise recorded as @misc entries, just like in your case. You could have type = letter. – Count Zero Apr 23 '13 at 11:34

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, the purpose of citation is "ethics, copyright laws, and courtesy to readers." In other words, not only in the case of technical papers, citing a paper/article/book/etc. after providing some information has two meanings: (1) I (an author) have not taken the information out of thin air and (2) dear reader, if you want to know more about the presented information, please look at the cited work.

Taking this into account, @misc you (and Michael Shell) have presented is enough and complete. Generally, there is no point in citing exactly the communication channel. Does it make a difference for readers if you say that you have exchanged letters with Dr. X or have spoken to Prof. Y during the 13th IEEE XYZ Conference? I'd say no.

The above-mentioned citation leads readers to the source correctly. If a reader wants to know more, he/she should contact the cited person. Since he/she cannot use a time machine to go to the 13th IEEE XYZ Conference, there is no point in citing a venue. If Dr. X answered you a letter, he will probably answer an e-mail from a reader or respond to a direct question at a conference. Thus, the conversation channel is also needless. Such a citation is also correct from the copyright and ethics point of view: it says "it is his/her idea."

If you have been exchanging a lot of information via different channels for many years, just use 1998--2010 in the year field. In many cases, an "one person = one reference" rule will be enough (note, that you can always cite a reference many times in your work).

  • Have you seen how this is displayed in the bibliography? The result just one line that reads: "S. Konyagin, private communication, 1998." – Mario S. E. Apr 23 '13 at 12:24

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