The chief fact about our E-mail conversations is that they are limited to those known to be taking part in them. Only those persons have access to the archive of previous messages, and the conversation itself is understood to be confidential. The question of citation thus hardly arises.
When it does arise, the metaphysical situation is that a posting to an E-list is very like a letter written from one scholar to another, except that (1) the letter exists only electronically, (2) for the time being at least it is archived in the Yahoo internet server, from which it can in principle be retrieved, and (3) it is addressed to the whole list, and not to any one of its 200 recipients. The proper precedent is thus the "personal communication" for which scholarly citation conventions have been established, but modified in the light of these conditions.
With those modifications, our suggestions for electronic matter in general are the following.
Messages to a List
The permission of living persons should be sought before citing any communication from them, whether individual or list-mediated.
A personal communication might be cited this way:
Wolfgang Behr, personal communication, 23 Sept 2001
An E-mail message distributed to several persons by an electronic listserver is not "personal." It exists in more than one place, sometimes including an Internet archive. We may thus add the name of the list through which the message was distributed, and specify E-mail as the medium, thus
Wolfgang Behr, WSW E-mail communication, 20 Apr 2000
If WSW has been previously identified as a source, this may be reduced to
Wolfgang Behr, WSW 20 Apr 2000
The time, and sometimes also the date, of receipt will differ for recipients in different parts of the globe. If there is an archive, the archive date is definitive; otherwise, use the date of individual receipt.
Subject lines of E-mail messages do not work well as titles. Most of them include a "Re" prefix, and not all "Re" messages are really in response to the previous message with that subject head. They are thus more often misleading than helpful, and they take a lot of space. We recommend dropping them.
The basic rule is to give the URL (minus the understood "http://"). The complications are three:
(1) Web page addresses (URL's) may change if, for instance, the site owner moves to a different university, or the commercial host of an archive merges with another company. Web pages may also vanish altogether; one recent estimate is that the average life of a Web page is eighteen months. The URL to cite is the one from which the individual got the specified information. There can be no guarantee that it is still functional.
(2) Web pages tend to have titles. If the page as viewed has no clear title, its author may have given it a title which displays at the top of a browser. The display title is the default designation.
(3) Web page content is not fixed, but fluid. It is therefore also desirable to give the date at which one accessed (and printed out, or took notes on) the source in question. That date says to your reader, "As seen on this date, the page here referenced contained the statement here cited." Some web pages (including many of the ones at this site) contain a posting date, a date at which the content was last revised. Those dates are not always themselves updated when the the page content is updated. They are thus often illusory, and we thus recommend that the viewing date be given instead (it will also be the date of any printout saved by the careful researcher). Thus, for this page at this moment:
Making Contact / Citation Conventions
(www.umass.edu/wsp/contact/citation, 29 Oct 2012)
26 Oct 2012 / Contact The Project / Exit to Project Home Page