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)

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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.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
January 14, 2021 at 12:50 PM

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