How to Cite a PDF in MLA — Guide & Examples

17.01.23 MLA examples Time to read: 3min

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Organizations and schools usually own repositories where their research publications are uploaded in PDF and other readable formats. However, PDFs are digital formats that house books or journals. For this reason, MLA citation doesn’t use PDFs as a primary source but rather the journals or books within a PDF.1

How to Cite a PDF in MLA – In a Nutshell

  • Most research sources today are available exclusively in digital formats such as PDF.
  • Students wondering how to cite a PDF in MLA should remember that PDFs are just digital carriers of sources such as journals, books, and magazine articles.
  • Thus, the correct formatting of these sources should apply.

Definition: How to cite a PDF in MLA

This refers to the rules and guidelines for citing books and journals in PDF (Portable Document Format) forms as stipulated in the MLA guide for formatting academic papers. MLA PDF citation is essential for citing primary research sources to correctly acknowledge the original work and its owner(s).2

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How to cite a PDF in MLA: Book

PDFs used for academic research are often books or extracts from books, usually highlighted by a copyright or title section. In MLA PDF citation, such online books are cited using the standard book details in addition to the site’s name alongside a URL. Use the following format:

MLA format: Last name, First Name. Title of Book. Publisher, Year. Name of Database/Website. URL/DOI. PDF download/PDF file.
MLA Works Cited Entry: Walters, Jeffrey. Across Borders: Chasing Summer. Oxford Publishing Press, 2007. Oxford University. PDF download.
MLA in-text citation: (Walters 176)

How to cite a PDF in MLA: Journal article

Journals typically have volume and issue numbers as part of a series of publications. In MLA PDF citation, you should include the number of the volume and issue where applicable with the journal’s name. Ideally, you should include a DOI but indicate the URL associated with the PDF if unavailable.

MLA Format: Author's Last Name, First Name, "Title of Article." Name of Journal, Volume no. Issue, Date. Pages(s), DOI/URL. PDF File/Download.
MLA Works Cited Entry: Peterson, Jordan. "12 rules for Life." Vol 1, no 2, pp. 123-142.
MLA in-text citation: (Peterson 214)3

How to cite a PDF in MLA: Newspaper

Articles from magazines and newspapers can also be cited where available in PDF format. They mostly have page numbers which can be indicated in your citation. You can also add the link and show it’s a PDF format for further clarity. The format is as outlined below:

MLA format: Last name, First name. "Title of Article" Name of Newspaper/Magazine, Date(Day/Month/Year). pg numbers, URL, PDF file.
MLA Works Cited Entry: Xavier, Charles. "The Birth of the Sea." The Chicago Tribune, 8 Feb. 2017, pp. 12.
MLA in-text citation: (Xavier 12)4

How to cite a PDF in MLA: Report

Researchers often use reports released by organizations and state departments, and they may have report numbers or directly associated with the organization in place of a specific author. In most cases, the author is also the publisher, and you should indicate it only once in your citation. For example:

MLA format: Last name, First name, or Name of Organization. Name of Report. Name of Publisher, Year. Report No. Number. URL, PDF download/file.
MLA Works Cited Entry: Richards, Jack. Information Systems in Machine Learning, 2019. Report No. TRCD 765., PDF download.
MLA-in-text citation: (Richards 7)5
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If you want to know how to cite a PDF in MLA, ensure you first identify the source in the pdf. This may be a book or journal, among other academic sources; follow the usual format of citing these sources and include a DOI or URL.

MLA citation guidelines dictate that government reports should be cited using the name of the government body rather than specific authors. Include the name of the report and year and mention the publisher/author once if they are the same.

A DOI or Digital Object Identifier is a unique number used to identify an online document such as a PDF. It is made of alphanumeric characters and is used to cite PDFs and other digital files.

The link to a newspaper is an optional component of a PDF Citation. However, ensure you include the author’s names, article title, and the newspaper’s name.


1 Cite This For Me. “Cite an E-book or PDF in MLA style.” Accessed January 4, 2023.

2 Citation Mschine. “How to Cite a PDF.” Accessed January 4, 2023.

3 EasyBib. “How to Cite a PDF in APA.” Accessed January 4, 2023.

4 Libguides. “MLA 8 Citation Guide.” Ocotber 29, 2021.

5 Betts, Jennifer. “How to Cite a PDF.” Accessed January 4, 2023.