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.

Chicago Format Example

 Reilly, Robert. Complicated Relationships. PDF file. September 20, 2017.


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