How To Cite a PDF: A Detailed Guide

September 25th, 2020

Reading time about 13 min

Citing PDF (portable document format) files is always important, especially in academia and research. How to cite a PDF article is a question that plagues many. However, citing an article is very easy if one follows specific rules and guidelines.

How to cite a PDF, PDF Document

Their purpose classifies different citation methods, and each set pertains to a particular set of rules. A PDF file, is more than just a source, it is actually that document that, in print, contains that source, and is available for display as well.

Things to Know Before Citing a PDF Article

Before citing a PDF, one has to gather certain preliminary information and a reference list about the article that is being cited. These are different for different articles: a picture, a newspaper article, an ebook, and others.

  • Author’s name
  • Title of the original article
  • Name and volume number of where the work has been published
  • Issue number and date of publication and year of publication
  • Total page numbers if it is a book or journal
  • The web address of the article
  • DOI or URL

These are some of the everyday things one needs to know how to cite a PDF file.

What Are the Different Citation Styles?

A PDF can be cited in different formats with MLA, APA, and Chicago styles being the most widely used formed. Each has its benefits and shortcomings, and each is used under a specific circumstance. How to cite a PDF hence depends on the type of PDF being cited.

  • MLA formatting allows one to change the medium description to “PDF file.” Thus it is usually used by anyone pursuing literature, arts, or humanities.
  • In an APA citation, there isn’t any difference between citing an online PDF, and a website, in both cases, the URL, needs to be cited. It is used in psychology, education, linguistics, journalism, communications, and other social sciences.
  • In Chicago style, the same description can be added after the title, without brackets. It is used in journalism, editing, and publishing.

However, sometimes, citations other than these are used in specific fields. One should use a style that is generally recommended or requested for any article.

However, it is always better to insert an in-text citation right after the article has been used. It reduces the chances of being flagged down for plagiarism. Thus, when one compares PDF files, even if similar texts are found, those are not considered as plagiarism, as it has proper acknowledgment and citation.

However, the way of citing this would depend on the general style used in the text. However, even after the in-text citation, a proper citation should be given in the bibliography.

How to Cite PDF in Different Styles?

MLA Style

1) Citing a PDF

This style focuses on the author of the file and the page number of the reference.

  • If the author is mentioned in the statement, the parentheses should have the page number: Example: According to ‘put author name here,’ housing prices have increased in metropolitan areas (insert page number).
  • In other cases, parenthesis of both the name and the page number is there at the end of the sentence or quotation: People can argue that housing prices have increased in metropolitan areas (Author Page number).
  • In case there are two authors, put an ‘and’ between their names. If there are more than two authors, separate them by commas.
  • If no author name is listed, use the name of the institution.
  • If no institution or author is mentioned, use the name of the article.
  • If no page number is present and the article is divided into chapters or sections, cite them.
  • However, if no chapters are given, cite the file as a whole.
  • Always use the parenthetical citation before the final punctuation of the sentence.

2) Citing an eBook

  • Author’s last name, author’s first name.
  • “Book Title.” Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Ebook publisher, Year of Ebook publication. File type.

3) Citing journal articles

  • Author’s last name, author’s first name.
  • “Article title.” Journal Title Volume number.Issue number (Date of publication): page numbers. Database name. Medium. Date of access.

If the journal article is in the form of an online-only journal, stick to the original format but add an “n.pag” in place of the page numbers.

APA Style

  • In an APA format, the author’s (last name or organization name) and the year is written in parentheses with a comma in between.
  • If a direct quote is taken, a ‘p.’ is added in front t of the page number and then add a space.
  • If the author’s name is already mentioned, the year should be there in parentheses next to the name. The page number should be in parentheses at the end of the statement, if at all applicable.
  • If there is more than one author, use ‘&’ instead of ‘and.’
  • Place the parenthetical citation before the final punctuation of the sentence.

1) Citing an eBook

  • Author’s last name, author’s first initial. (Year of publication).
  • ‘’Book title’’ [PDF document]. Available from a web address.

2) Citing journal articles

  • Author’s last name, author’s first initial. (Year of publication).
  • Title of article or the journal [PDF file]. Volume number (issue number), page numbers.” If the journal article contains a DOI number, include that too.

Chicago Manuel Style

1) Citing journal articles

  • Author’s name (the first name then last name)
  • Article title, “Journal Title”
  • Volume number, Issue number (Date of publication): Page number.
  • Format for citing eBooks in Chicago Manual style is in bibliography:
  • Author’s last name, author’s first name.
  • Book Title PDF file.
  • Place of publication: Publisher, Date of publication. File type. Web address.

2) Formatting journal citations

  • Author’s last name, author’s first name.
  • “Article title.” Journal title Volume number, Issue number (Date of publication): page numbers. DOI:

3) If there is no DOI, the format becomes

  • Author’s last name, author’s first name.
  • “Article title.” Journal title Volume number, Issue number (Date of publication): page numbers. Date accessed.
How to cite a PDF, Girl using a laptop

All the citation styles have a handbook. If the researcher or the student faces any confusion, they can take the help of those handbooks. If the researcher or the student faces any confusion, they can take the help of those handbooks. If the research papers lack citation then the duplicate content checkers can check papers for plagiarism.

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