How to Cite a PDF in MLA

Citing sources accurately is crucial in academic writing. The Modern Language Association (MLA) format provides guidelines to ensure proper citation and attribution. When citing a PDF, it’s important to follow specific structures based on the type of source you are referencing. This article outlines how to cite PDFs of books, journal articles, and newspaper or magazine articles in MLA format.


When citing a PDF of a book, whether it’s a hard copy or an online version, the citation on the Works Cited page should adhere to the following structure:

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company, 2008. PDF file.
Author’s Last Name, First Name. Book title. Publisher, Year of publication. PDF file.

The citation begins with the author’s last name followed by the first name, “Gladwell, Malcolm.” The title of the book is italicized, “Outliers: The Story of Success.” The publisher of the book, “Little, Brown and Company,” is listed next. The year the book was published, “2008,” follows the publisher’s name. The citation ends with the note “PDF file,” indicating that the format of the source is a PDF file.

Harari, Yuval Noah. Lessons of the Century. Spiegel & Grau, 2018. Google Books, PDF download.
Author’s Last Name, First Name. Book title. Publisher, Year of publication. Website name, URL. PDF download.

In this example, the author’s name is listed first, followed by the title of the book in italics. The publisher and year of publication come next, followed by the name of the website where the PDF is found in italics. The URL and the notation “PDF download” conclude the citation.


For journal articles in PDF format, the citation should follow this formula:

Dweck, Carol. “Motivational Processes Affecting Learning.” American Psychologist, vol. 41, no. 10, Oct. 1986, pp. 1040–1048. PDF download.
Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Article title.” Journal name, vol. no., issue no., Date of publication, page range. URL. PDF download.

The author’s name is followed by the title of the article in quotation marks. The journal name is italicized, and the volume and issue numbers are included if available. The date of publication and page range come next, followed by the URL and ‘PDF download’ to finish the citation.


When citing a newspaper or magazine article that is in PDF format, the citation should be structured as follows:

Harris, Kathryn. “The Rise of Remote Work: Challenges and Benefits.” Harvard Business Review, 3 Apr. 2023, pp. 30-33. PDF file.
Author’s Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Magazine/Newspaper Name, Day Month Year, page range. URL. PDF file.

For this type of citation, start with the author’s name, followed by the article title in quotation marks. The name of the newspaper or magazine is italicized, followed by the date of publication and the page numbers. The URL, if available, and the notation “PDF file” complete the citation.

Specify the Type of PDF Access: When citing a PDF, add “PDF file” if you are linking directly to the PDF document. If you link to a page where the PDF can be downloaded instead of directly to the PDF, use “PDF download.” This distinction helps clarify how the PDF can be accessed.

Check for Stable URLs or DOIs: Ensure that the URL provided leads directly to the PDF document and not just to a webpage where the PDF can be accessed. If available, use a stable URL or DOI (Digital Object Identifier) provided by the publisher or database.

Include Page Numbers (If Applicable): If the PDF document includes page numbers, especially for longer works like books or reports, include the specific page numbers you are referencing in your citation. This helps readers locate the exact information you are citing within the document.

Include Version or Edition (If Applicable): If the PDF you are citing is a specific version or edition of a work, especially for documents that have been revised or updated, include this information in your citation to provide clarity about the specific version being referenced.


Start your TypeCite Boost 3 day free trial today. Then just $4.99 per month to save your citations, organize in projects, and much more.

Hannah Berry (Ph.D.)

Hannah Berry has lectured at several colleges and teaches at the WEA. Besides publishing extensively, she has taught citation skills and written multiple style guides.

Learn how to cite in MLA