Writing letters may be a thing of the past now, however, those written before present a generous source of information now. That’s why we wouldn’t want you to skip on adding a letter as a reference to your research paper just because you don’t know how to cite it. So, below, we will explain how you can properly mention and attribute any letters in MLA, APA, and Chicago formatting styles. With this information, you will therefore be able to enrich your research, literature analysis, or even essay with a new level of detail without losing academic integrity.

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General Information You Need to Collect

Before you jump straight into quoting and then citing a letter, you better write down all the details that will be needed for your future reference. Doing this beforehand will make the citation process much quicker and easier, leaving you with more time for actual writing. Here’s what information you need to find:

  1. Author and Recipient
    First, you need to identify the author of the letter and the person to whom it was sent. These names will be used in both the in-text citation and the bibliography entry.
  2. Date of the Letter
    The date on which the letter was written or sent is crucial information. It helps establish the letter’s context and is a necessary component of the citation.
  3. Title or Description
    Some letters have titles, but many do not. In cases where there is no title, a brief description (such as “Letter to John Hitz”) should be provided.
  4. Format
    You should also note whether the letter is a manuscript, diary, or something else. This detail is particularly important for manuscripts, which might require specifying page or folio numbers.
  5. Publication Information
    If the letter has been published, you need to note the city, publisher, and date of publication. For online letters, include the URL and any relevant access date.
  6. Document or Collection Number
    Letters from an archive or a collection often have a specific document number or collection name. Make sure to record this detail as it helps others locate the letter.

Now, let’s consider the specific requirements for different citation styles.

Citing a Letter in APA

APA is a very common formatting style so using it for your letter citation makes sense. After all, especially if you are studying in humanities, you are more likely to be asked to format your paper using this specific format.

Thus, you should know that APA letter citations typically include the following:

  • Author: The sender of the letter.
  • Date: The date when the letter was written.
  • Title: The title of the letter or a description, such as “Letter from [Sender] to [Receiver].”
  • Unpublished: Indicating that the letter is unpublished. Note that this is extra information, that shouldn’t necessarily be mentioned, especially not if the letter was published
  • Source: The name of the collection or URL if accessed online.

Considering these details, your reference list entry should follow the format:

How to Cite a Letter

When referencing the letter in-text, use the author’s last name and the year the letter was written.

Format: (Author Surname, Year)
Example: (Miller, 1932)

You should also consider the fact that if the letter is personal communication, use the in-text citation only:

Format: (Author, personal communication, Date)
Example: (Robbinson, personal communication, January 2024)

Adding Letter as a Reference in MLA

When citing a letter in MLA, it’s important to include specific details and format them properly. MLA letter citations usually include the following:

  1. Name of the Writer
  2. Title or Subject Line
  3. Generic Description: If the letter lacks a title, provide a generic description, such as “Letter to [Recipient].”
  4. Date and Recipient: Include the name of the person who received the letter, followed by a comma, and then the date in day-month-year format.
  5. Collection or Location Information: If the letter is part of a collection, include the collection name, the institution where it is housed, and the material type.
  6. Online Source: If the letter is accessed online, include the title of the website, followed by the URL and the access date.

As such, the reference list entry will look the following way:

How to Cite a Letter

In-text citations in MLA typically include the writer and recipient’s names, followed by the date.

Example: (Nin to Miller 6 Aug. 1932)
If referencing multiple letters, specify the date in brackets to distinguish them.
Example: (Nin to Miller [6 Aug])

In case you’re tired of memorizing all of this, try our citation genertor for simpler citing

Using Chicago for Letter Citations

When citing a letter in Chicago style, you need to include several key pieces of information in the proper format. Here’s how you can structure these citations correctly for both footnotes and bibliography entries.

  1. Author: Start with the author’s last name, followed by their first name and middle initial (if available).
  2. Title and Recipient
  3. Location: Include the location where the letter was written, if available. If no specific location is known, you can skip this step.
  4. Date: Follow this with the full date when the letter was written in month-day-year format.
  5. Source Information: If the letter is part of a collection, provide information about the collection and where it can be found.
How to Cite a Letter

Chicago style does not use in-line citations but instead employs footnotes. The general format for a footnote is:

Format: Author’s First MI. Last to Recipient First MI. Last, location at the time of writing, delivery date (month, day, year).
Example: Anaïs Nin to The Collector, Paris, August 6, 1932.

In case the letter is part of a collection, add the publication information or URL.

Example: Anaïs Nin to The Collector, Paris, August 6, 1932, in The Diary Of Anaïs Nin – Volume 3 – 1939 -1944, edited by Gunther Schuhlmann. Accessed through the following link: https://lettersofnote.com/2012/06/29/sex-does-not-thrive-on-monotony/.


If you think about it, adding citations is not as difficult, once you know all the specifics and rules. However, it is not possible to keep all of that information in your head all the time, especially if you are thinking about compiling valid research. There will always be something more important stuck in your head. Since this is the case, don’t be afraid to look up proper citation rules now and then. Or, which is far more effective, use free online citation generators (like the one by AcademicHelp, for example) to create any in-text or bibliography citation quickly and without unnecessary stress.


What is a citation letter?

A citation letter refers to a letter that is being referenced or cited as a source in academic or professional writing. In other words, it’s a letter that you want to mention or include in your research, paper, or other written work. Citation letters can include personal letters, business correspondence, historical documents, or any written communication that you find relevant to your topic.

How to cite a written letter?

To cite a written letter, you should generally include key details such as the author’s name, the recipient’s name, the date the letter was written or sent, and any relevant contextual information like the city or place where it was written. If the letter has a title or description, that should be included as well. Additionally, if the letter is part of a collection or archive, you should note the name of the collection and the institution where it is housed. This way, the citation is informative and complete, allowing readers to locate the letter if needed.

How do I reference an online letter?

Referencing an online letter involves similar steps to citing a written letter, but also includes the URL where the letter can be found. In this case, you should include the name of the person who wrote the letter, the name of the person to whom the letter was addressed, the date when the letter was written or sent, and any relevant contextual information like the city or place where it was written. If the letter has a title or description, that should also be mentioned. Finally, the web address where the letter can be accessed should be provided to make sure that readers can easily find the online letter if they need to verify or consult it.

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