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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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