How to cite a PDF in MLA
MLA doesn’t treat PDFs as their own source type. When you want to cite a PDF, you should determine what type of source it contains (e.g. a book or journal article) and cite it in the appropriate format.
If you feel it’s relevant, you may mention in your reference that the source was accessed as a PDF by adding “PDF file.” Note that you can write “PDF download” instead if you link to a page where the PDF can be downloaded (rather than directly to the PDF).
If you’re unsure about the source type, look for clues in the PDF (e.g. the name of the larger publication it comes from), or ask the instructor who provided you with it. This article gives examples of citations for several source types you might encounter in PDF form.
Citing a book in PDF form
Extracts from books (or sometimes entire books) are commonly encountered as PDFs online. You can recognize them by the inclusion of a copyright page or title page.
To cite an online book like this, list the usual information for a book, followed by the name of the site where it was found and a URL or DOI.
|Format||Last name, First name. Book Title. Publisher, Year. Website/Database Name. DOI or URL. PDF file or PDF download.|
|Works Cited entry||Kosofsky Sedgwick, Eve. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke University Press, 2003. Boston University. www.bu.edu/honoringeve/files/2009/09/paranoid-reading-and-reparative-reading.pdf. PDF file.|
|In-text citation||(Kosofsky Sedgwick 126)|
Citing a journal article
Journal articles usually indicate the volume, issue, and name of the journal. It’s best to include a DOI to provide a stable link to the article, but if no DOI is available, you can include the URL of the PDF instead.
|Format||Last name, First name. “Article Title.” Journal Name, vol. Volume, no. Issue, Month Year, pp. Pages, DOI or URL. PDF file or PDF download.|
|Works Cited entry||McCabe, David P., and Castel, Alan D. “Seeing Is Believing: The Effect of Brain Images on Judgements of Scientific Reasoning.” Cognition, vol. 107, no. 1, pp. 343–352, castel.bol.ucla.edu/publications/McCabeCastelCogn.pdf.|
|In-text citation||(McCabe and Castel 348)|
Citing a newspaper or magazine article
A PDF scan of a print newspaper or magazine article will usually include the page numbers, which you can use in your citation, optionally including a link and specifying the PDF format if you think it’s relevant.
|Format||Last name, First name. “Article Title.” Magazine/Newspaper Name, Day Month Year, pp. Pages, URL, PDF file or PDF download.|
|Works Cited entry||Brodeur, Michael Andor. “Opera Is Taking Entirely New Forms. Its Survival May Depend on It.” The Washington Post, 7 Jan. 2021, pp. 14–15.|
|In-text citation||(Brodeur 14)|
Citing a report
Reports are issued by organizations and governments. They sometimes have a report number and are often attributed to the organization rather than an individual author. If the organizational author is the same as the publisher, only include it once.
|Format||Last name, First name or Organization Name. Report Name. Publisher, Year. Report no. Number. URL, PDF file or PDF download.|
|Works Cited entry||Bedford, Denise A. D. Enterprise Information Architecture: An Overview. Washington State Department of Transportation, 2017. Report no. WA-RD 896.4. www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/reports/fullreports/896-4.pdf, PDF file.|
|In-text citation||(Bedford 3)|