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[MLA] How do I cite a PDF? Why does PDF appear in my citation?

What is a PDF? Digital files in PDF (Portable Document Format) retain their formatting when viewed on multiple platforms and devices.  Online journals, web pages, databases and Web sites may all contain PDFs.  A PDF will open in your Web browser, although some computers send a PDF to Adobe Acrobat Professional, a software program on your computer.

Case 1:  What if I have a PDF and don't know the facts of publication? (It's a file on my computer or on a smartphone.)

Cite it as a "Digital File" (MLA 5.7.18).
  Enter PDF as the digital file type.

Abilock, Debbie. "Alligator Management Visual Essay Rubric." 4 Mar. 2010. PDF file.


Case 2:  How do I cite a PDF online?

Determine the source type (e.g., book, magazine, journal, etc.) and cite it.  Your citation will show Web as the medium of publication.

Examples:

  1. If you have a PDF of a journal article in a database, use the journal citation type and select the Database tab.

    Jackson, James F., Howard W. Campbell, and Kenneth E. Campbell, Jr. "The Feeding Habits of Crocodilians: Validity of the Evidence from Stomach Contents." Journal of Herpetology 8.4 (1974): 378-81. JSTOR. Web. 4 Mar. 2010. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1562912>.

  2. If you have a PDF of a journal article on a Web page, use the journal citation type and select the Web Site tab. Select the "Original print information provided" radio button at the top of the form.

    Müller, Gerd B., and Pere Alberch. "Ontogeny of the Limb Skeleton in Alligator Mississippiensis: Developmental Invariance and Change in the Evolution of Archosaur Limbs." Journal of Morphology 203 (1990): 151-64. Web. 4 Mar. 2010. <http://homepage.univie.ac.at/gerhard.mueller/pdfs/1990AlligatorLimbs.pdf>.

  3. If you have a PDF of an online-only journal on a Web page, use the journal citation type and select the Web Site tab. Select the "E-publication (born-digital)" radio button at the top of the form.

    Langley, Ricky L. "Alligator Attacks on Humans in the United States." Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 16.3 (2005): 119-24. Web. 4 Mar. 2010. <http://www.wemjournal.org/pdfserv/i1080-6032-016-03-0119.pdf>.


Case 3:  What if I have a PDF online that doesn't fit any source type?

Cite it as a Web page.  Your citation will show Web as the medium of publication.

Example:

"Alligator Information: Frequently Asked Questions about Alligators." Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer Organization. Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer Organization, n.d. Web. 4 Mar. 2010. <http://www.brazosbend.org/animals/factsheets/Alligator/alligatorfacts.pdf>.



This article last revised: 09/23/2012

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