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📀 PDFs vs. EPUBs: mastering ebooks for research
📀 PDFs vs. EPUBs: mastering ebooks for research

Ebooks are available in PDF & EPUB formats. Understanding their differences will help you to improve your research and reading experience

Updated over a week ago

Ebooks have two primary formats: PDFs and EPUBs. Knowing the advantages of each format will help streamline your research process and ensure your citations are precise.


Think of a PDF as a digital photocopy of a physical book.

  • Maintains the original layout

  • Includes fixed page numbers

  • Fantastic for referencing specific passages – just like citing a printed book

  • Rigid layout can be cumbersome on smaller ereader screens, requiring constant zooming


EPUBs are the champions of reader comfort.

  • Flexible layout adjusts to your ereader's screen size, ensuring a pleasant reading experience

  • Customise fonts, line spacing, and margins for optimal readability

  • Flexibility can affect page number consistency. Since the text reflows, page numbers might not always match the original book.

Some ePUBs are sent to us without page numbers from the publishers. Students often ask us how they should cite ebooks that don't contain page numbers, find out how on our referencing article here.

Conquering Citations

So, which format suits you? It depends!

Here's your cheat sheet:

  • For pinpoint accuracy: PDFs are your go-to. Their static layout ensures reliable page numbers.

  • For reading ease: EPUBs offer a smooth experience, but referencing requires extra caution.

Tricks to navigate EPUB citations:

  • Look for location numbers or percentages: Some EPUBs display your position within the text using location numbers or percentages. These can be helpful alternatives to page numbers.

  • Chapter titles as lifesavers: If location data is unavailable, consider mentioning chapter titles or other unique identifiers alongside page numbers. This provides additional context for your citations.


  • Always consult your institution's or publication's preferred citation style guide.

  • When in doubt about EPUB page numbers, chapter titles are your friend.

By understanding these differences, you can leverage the strengths of both PDFs and EPUBs, optimising your research workflow and maintaining clear, accurate citations.

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