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How to Cite a PDF


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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 source the file actually is.

A PDF, after all, is not really a source itself, but rather a file type and a way to display a 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, or you can include a URL that links directly to the PDF. Here is how you would do this in the three most popular citation styles:

  • In a MLA citation, to cite a downloaded PDF, change the medium description to “PDF download.” To cite a PDF file available to view online, change the location description to the URL leading to the PDF.
  • In an APA citation, cite a PDF the same way you would cite a webpage, including the URL leading to the PDF.
  • In a Chicago-style citation, after the title, add the same description without brackets (separated by a period).



MLA Format Example

Downloaded PDF:

Executive summary. 2017 Trust Fund Annual Report, The World Bank Group, 2017. The World Bank Group, 2017, www.worldbank.org/en/publication/trust-fund-annual-report-2017/2017-trust-fund-annual-report/executive-summary. PDF download.

URL leading to the PDF:

Executive summary. 2017 Trust Fund Annual Report, The World Bank Group, 2017, documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/428511521809720471/683696272_201803110085432/additional/124547-REVISED-PUBLIC-17045-TF-Annual-Report-web-Apr17.pdf.

If you need help with in-text and parenthetical citations, CitationMachine.net, can help. Our MLA citation generator is simple and easy to use!

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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How do I indicate that I am citing a PDF on my APA-style reference list?

There is no explicit way to indicate that you are citing a PDF, as PDF is a file format and not a type of reference (e.g., journal article, book, or book chapter). You can cite any reference type in PDF format (e.g., magazine articles and reports). To cite a PDF in APA format, cite it in a webpage style. Include a URL, which takes the user to the PDF. Following are a template and example on how to cite a PDF in APA format.


Surname, F. M. or Name of Group. (Publication Date). Title of the report. Publisher (if different from author). URL


California Air Resources Board [CARB]. (2017). California’s 2017 climate change scoping plan. https://ww3.arb.ca.gov/cc/scopingplan/scoping_plan_2017.pdf

How do I indicate that I am citing a PDF in Chicago (notes-bibliography) style?

To cite a PDF in Chicago (notes-bibliography) style, include the names of the contributors, title of the PDF, publisher, publication date, and URL. Cite a PDF similar to an online book. Following are a template and example for how to cite a PDF in Chicago style.

Footnote template:

This is an example sentence.1


  1. Author First Name Surname/Organization Name, Title of the PDF (Publisher, Publication Date), URL.

Footnote example:

It is reported by JPI Cultural Heritage.1


  1. Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change, Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2020 (JPI Cultural Heritage, May 2020), http://jpi-ch.eu/wp-content/uploads/2156_JPI-Cultural-Heritage.pdf.

Bibliography template and example: 

Author Surname, First Name Middle Initial/Organization Name. Title of the PDF. Publisher, publication date. URL.

Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change. Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2020. JPI Cultural Heritage, May 2020. http://jpi-ch.eu/wp-content/uploads/2156_JPI-Cultural-Heritage.pdf.