Cathy Aranda
Cathy Aranda

How to Cite a PDF in APA, MLA, Chicago & Harvard Format

11 min read

Published on: Jun 24, 2024

Last updated on: Jul 22, 2024

How to Cite a PDF

Proper citation of PDF documents is a must for giving credit to the original authors and for avoiding plagiarism.

Whether in academic papers or professional reports, citing PDFs demonstrates integrity and respect for intellectual property. 

However, citing PDFs comes with its challenges. The format may lack standard citation information like author names or publication dates, making it tricky to reference accurately. Additionally, PDFs can be sourced from various online platforms, each with its own citation requirements. 

In this blog, we'll explore the importance of citing PDFs correctly and provide practical tips to overcome common citation challenges.

Let’s learn how to cite PDFs accurately in different citation styles

How to Cite a PDF in MLA Format

Citing PDFs in Modern Language Association (MLA) format depends on the type of source contained within the PDF. Follow these steps to cite a PDF effectively:

  • Determine Source Type:

When dealing with MLA citations, identify whether the PDF contains a book, journal article, report, or other source types.

  • Seek Clues or Guidance:

Look for clues within the PDF, such as the name of the larger publication it comes from, to determine the source type. If you’re unsure, consult with the instructor or refer to additional MLA guidelines for clarification.

  • Cite in Appropriate Format:

Once you determine the source type, cite it using the appropriate MLA format for books, articles, reports, etc. Include standard citation elements such as author names, titles, publication dates, and page numbers.

  • Indicate PDF Format:

If relevant, mention that the source was accessed as a PDF by adding “PDF file” to the citation. Alternatively, use “PDF download” if linking to a page where the PDF can be downloaded.

Below are works cited page examples on how to cite PDF sources in MLA format for different types of documents:

Book in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Publisher, Year. PDF file.

Example: Smith, John. The Art of Writing. XYZ Publishing, 2021. PDF file.

In-text citation: (Smith, 2021)

Journal Article in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Name. "Article Title." Journal Title, vol. X, no. X, Year, pp. XX-XX. Database Name, URL. PDF file.

Example: Doe, Jane. "The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity." Environmental Studies Journal, vol. 5, no. 2, 2020, pp. 45-60. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/123456. PDF file.

In-text citation: (Doe, 2020)

Report in PDF Format

Format: Author/Organization. Report Title. Publisher, Year. PDF file.

Example: United Nations. Global Economic Outlook 2022. UN Publications, 2022. PDF file.

In-text citation: (United Nations, 2022)

Website in PDF Format

Format: Author/Organization. "Page Title." Website Name, URL. PDF file.

Example: National Institute of Health. "Healthy Eating Guidelines." NIH, www.nih.gov/healthyeating. PDF file.

In-text citation: (National Institute of Health)

How to Cite a PDF in APA Format

Citing PDFs in the American Psychological Association (APA) format requires determining the type of source contained within the PDF. Follow these steps to cite a PDF effectively in APA style:

  • Identify Source Type:

Look for clues within the PDF to determine if it's a book, journal article, report, or other source type.

  • Cite in Appropriate Format:

Once you determine the source type, cite it using the APA format for books, articles, reports, etc. Also, include standard citation elements such as author names, publication dates, titles, and source information.

  • Use Online Source Details:

If you accessed the PDF online, include the URL or DOI (Digital Object Identifier) in the citation.

By following these steps, you can accurately cite PDF sources in APA format and provide clear references for your readers. 

For a better understanding, move on to the next section containing how to cite a PDF APA 7th Edition examples:

Book in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year). Book Title. Publisher. URL or DOI 

Example: Smith, J. (2018). The Art of Research. ABC Publishers. https://www.example.com/artofresearch.pdf

In-text citation: (Smith, 2018)

Journal Article in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year). Article Title. Journal Title, volume number(issue number), page range. URL or DOI 

Example: Doe, A. (2020). Understanding Trends in Environmental Sustainability. Environmental Studies Journal, 15(2), 45-60. https://www.journalwebsite.com/article123

In-text citation: (Doe, 2020)

Dissertation or Thesis in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year). Title of the Dissertation or Thesis (Doctoral dissertation or Master's thesis). Name of Institution. URL or DOI 

Example: Johnson, M. A. (2019). Exploring Educational Innovations (Doctoral dissertation). University of XYZ. https://www.universitywebsite.edu/thesis123

In-text citation: 

Report in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year). Title of the Report (Report No.) Organization/Publisher. URL or DOI 

Example: National Institute of Health. (2022). Annual Health Report (AC-RP 456.4) NIH Publications. https://www.nih.gov/healthreport.pdf

In-text citation: (Johnson, 2019)

White Paper Thesis in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year). Title of the White Paper. Organization/Publisher. URL or DOI 

Example: XYZ Foundation. (2017). Future Trends in Technology (White Paper). XYZ Foundation. https://www.xyzfoundation.org/whitpaper123

In-text citation:  (XYZ Foundation, 2017)

Newspaper or Magazine Article Thesis in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s). (Year, Month Day of Publication). Article Title. Newspaper or Magazine Name, page range. URL or DOI

Example: Johnson, S. (2021, March 15). New Discoveries in Space Exploration. Science Today, pp. A1-A5. https://www.sciencetoday.com/article456

In-text citation: (Johnson, 2021)

How Do You Cite a PDF with No Author in APA Style?

When citing a PDF with no author, you can use the title of the document in the APA in-text citation and APA reference list. Here's how you can do it:

In-text citation:

Use the first few words of the title (in quotation marks) or the entire title if it is short, followed by the year of publication. If there is no publication date, use "n.d." (no date).

Example: ("Title of the Document," Year)

Example with no date: ("Title of the Document," n.d.)

Reference list:

If there is no author, start with the title of the document. Italicize the title and use title case (capitalize the first letter of each major word). If there is a publication date, include it in parentheses, followed by the source (e.g., URL or DOI).

Example: Title of the Document. (Year). Retrieved from http://www.example.com

Example with no date: Title of the Document. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.example.com

Make sure to replace "Title of the Document" with the actual title of the PDF. If there is a specific organization or corporate author, you may use that in place of an individual author.

How to Cite a PDF in Chicago Format

Citing PDFs in Chicago format involves considering the source type within the PDF, such as a book, journal article, or report. Follow these guidelines to create accurate Chicago-style citations:

  • Identify the Source Type:

Look for clues within the PDF to determine whether it's a book, article, report, or other source.

  • Cite in Appropriate Format:

Depending on the source type, follow the Chicago format for books, articles, or reports.

Include elements such as author names, titles, publication dates, and page numbers.

  • Specify Online Source Details:

If accessed online, include the URL or DOI in the citation.

  • Adapt Based on Source:

Adjust citation elements based on the specific details and type of source contained within the PDF.

Below are some examples of how to cite a PDF in Chicago style for various sources: 

Book in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Name. Book Title. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. URL or DOI (if accessed online).

Example: Smith, John. The Art of Writing. New York: XYZ Publishing, 2019. https://www.example.com/artofwriting.pdf

In-text citation: (Smith 2019)

Journal Article in PDF Format

Format: Author Last Name, First Name. "Article Title." Journal Title volume number (year): page range. URL or DOI (if accessed online).

Example: Doe, Jane. "Exploring Environmental Changes." Environmental Studies Journal 25 (2020): 45-60. https://www.journalwebsite.com/article123

In-text citation: (Doe 2020)

Report in PDF Format

Format: Author/Organization. Title of the Report. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year. URL or DOI (if accessed online).

Example: National Institute of Health. Annual Health Report. Washington, D.C.: NIH Publications, 2022. https://www.nih.gov/healthreport.pdf

In-text citation: (National Institute of Health 2022)

How to Cite a PDF in Harvard Format

Citing PDFs in Harvard format requires acknowledging the source type within the PDF, be it a book, journal article, or report. Here's a straightforward guide to creating Harvard-style citations:

  • Identify Source Types:

Examine the PDF to determine whether it's a book, article, report, or another source.

  • Include Online Access Information

Add the URL or DOI if the PDF is accessed online, ensuring readers can locate the source easily.

  • Multiple Sources

If you’re citing multiple PDF sources, maintain a consistent format for each and separate citations with semicolons.

Here are some examples to help you understand how to cite a PDF in Harvard style: 

Citing a Book in PDF Form

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s) Year, Book Title, Place of Publication, Publisher, URL or DOI (Accessed: Date).

Example: Smith, J 2019, The Art of Writing, XYZ Publishing, New York, https://www.example.com/artofwriting.pdf (Accessed: 12th, February 2019).

In-text citation: (Doe 2020)

Citing a Journal Article 

Format: Author Last Name, First Initial(s) Year, 'Article Title', Journal Title, Volume(Issue), Page Range, URL or DOI (Accessed: Date).

Example: Doe, A 2020, 'Exploring Environmental Changes', Environmental Studies Journal, 25(1), 45-60, https://www.journalwebsite.com/article123 (Accessed: 18th, October 2019).

In-text citation: (Smith 2019)

Citing a Report

Format: Author/Organization Year, Title of the Report, Place of Publication, Publisher, URL or DOI (Accessed: Date).

Example: National Institute of Health 2022, Annual Health Report, NIH Publications, Washington, D.C., https://www.nih.gov/healthreport.pdf (Accessed: 15th, December 2017).

In-text citation: (National Institute of Health 2022)

Expert Tip

Check out our blog on citation examples to get various other examples of citations according to different citation styles. 

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Cathy Aranda

WRITTEN BY

Cathy Aranda (Mass communication)

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at PerfectEssayWriter.ai, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

Cathy is a highly dedicated author who has been writing for the platform for over five years. With a Master's degree in Mass Communication, she is well-versed in various forms of writing such as articles, press releases, blog posts, and whitepapers. As an essay writing guide author at PerfectEssayWriter.ai, she has been helping students and professionals improve their writing skills by offering practical tips on research, citation, sentence structure, and style.

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