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How to Cite a PDF


So you want to cite a PDF (or a Portable Document Format) file, but don’t know what citation format to use.

Citing PDFs can be a seemingly tricky part of writing a paper. Once you understand the process behind it, however, it becomes a very simple task.

The key to understanding how to cite a PDF is:

Always cite the PDF based on what the source in the file actually is.

A PDF, after all, is not really a source itself, but rather a file type and a way for displaying that source.

For example, if the source you wish to cite is a PDF of a newspaper article, cite the source as you would a newspaper.

Then, depending on the citation style you are using, you can add a short note to the citation that indicates that the source was in PDF format. Here is how you would do this in the three most popular citation styles:

  • In MLA formatting, you can change the medium description to “PDF file.”
  • In an APA citation, cite a PDF the same way you would cite a webpage, and include the PDF link as the URL.
  • In Chicago style, after the title, you can add the same description without brackets (separated by a period).



MLA Format Example

Fox, Morgan. “The Underground Railroad.” 2006. PDF file.

APA Format Example

Fox, M. (2008). Indiana income limits. Indiana Government Information. https://www.huduser.org/Datasets/IL/IL08/in_fy2008.pdf

Chicago Format Example

 Reilly, Robert. Complicated Relationships. PDF file. September 20, 2017. www.complicatedrelationships.com/amazon.pdf.


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