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”.

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:DOI or URL. PDF file.
Works Cited entry Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke University Press, 2003. Boston University. http://www.bu.edu/honoringeve/files/2009/09/paranoid-reading-and-reparative-reading.pdf. PDF file.
In-text citation (Kosofsky 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:DOI or URL.
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, http://castel.bol.ucla.edu/publications/McCabeCastelCogn.pdf.
In-text citation (McCabe and Castel 348)

What can proofreading do for your paper?

Scribbr editors not only correct grammar and spelling mistakes, but also strengthen your writing by making sure your paper is free of vague language, redundant words and awkward phrasing.

See editing example

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.
Works Cited entry Brodeur, Michael Andor. “Opera Is Taking Entirely New Forms. Its Survival May Depend on It.” 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.
Works Cited entry Bedford, Denise A. D. Enterprise information architecture: An overview. Washington State Department of Transportation, 2017. Report no. WA-RD 896.4. https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/reports/fullreports/896-4.pdf, PDF file.
In-text citation (Bedford 3)

Frequently asked questions about MLA citations

How do I cite a source with no author or page numbers in MLA?

If a source has no author, start the MLA Works Cited entry with the source title. Use a shortened version of the title in your in-text citation.

If a source has no page numbers, you can use an alternative locator (e.g. a chapter number, or a timestamp for a video or audio source) to identify the relevant passage in your in-text citation. If the source has no numbered divisions, cite only the author’s name (or the title).

If you already named the author or title in your sentence, and there is no locator available, you don’t need a parenthetical citation:

  • Rajaram argues that representations of migration are shaped by “cultural, political, and ideological interests.”
  • The homepage of The Correspondent describes it as “a movement for radically different news.”
How do I format a DOI in MLA style?

In MLA style citations, format DOIs with the prefix doi: followed by the string of letters and numbers.

doi:10.1177/0269881118806297

DOIs are used mainly when citing journal articles in MLA.

What is the easiest way to create MLA citations?

The fastest and most accurate way to create MLA citations is by using Scribbr’s MLA Citation Generator.

Search by book title, page URL or journal DOI to automatically generate flawless citations, or cite manually using the simple citation forms.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

2 comments

Ariba
April 17, 2021 at 7:17 PM

Nothing's missing, but I need to cite this PDF-ish thing for an assignment and there is no detail on it whatsoever, besides the name of someone who MIGHT be the author. How do I cite it then? It's probably either a report or part of some kind of book (textbook maybe).

Reply

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
April 22, 2021 at 4:48 PM

Hi Ariba,

That's a tricky situation. It's probably best to assume the name listed is the author and to go for the report format (since, if it is part of a book, you presumably don't know what the book is called, so you couldn't really make a complete citation that way). Omit any information you can't find, but make sure to include the URL and the words "PDF file" at the end; that way the reader can at least see how you accessed the source and why the citation might appear incomplete.

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