How to find out author and date details for a PDF

July 13, 2012

Peter, a work colleague, wanted to know how to reference a PDF he’d located on a government website. There was no identifying information on the PDF — there was a date, a semblance of a title, but no authoring body, and the headers and footers offered only a variation of the title. He couldn’t guess the authoring body from the website address as this government department had changed names several times over the years since the publication date.

Here’s the top of page 1 of the PDF so you can see his dilemma:

No author information on the document

Fortunately, I was able to help him. By looking at the Document Properties for the PDF, I identified the author and the correct title for this document and Peter was able to complete his bibliography.


First, right-click anywhere in the PDF and select Document Properties.

Open the PDF's Document Properties

Then check the details on the Description tab.

The Document Properties show the authoring body and the full title

In this example, the full title was listed (1), along with the correct authoring body at the time the document was created (2), and the date it was created (3).

By the way, I’m pretty sure that this information comes from the metadata of the original software that was used to create the document (e.g. Microsoft Word), so while it’s good that it’s available in the PDF’s document properties, don’t rely on it 100%.

(based on a Writing Tip I wrote for my work colleagues)


  1. Thanks for sharing that.

    Does anyone know how to automate the population of the Title and other fields of multiple PDFs using scripts?

  2. Thank you! I have had a similar issue whilst trying to cite a pdf found online. I now have a name, title, year and publisher. Thank you again!

  3. Thank you! Having spent well over an hour trying to search for the publication year of a document I was getting frustrated, but you’ve given me the quick solution.

  4. Thanks a lot

  5. But how do I access this information while opening a PDF in Google Chrome? I can’t right click to access the menu in my browser.

  6. Hi Bill

    If the right-click doesn’t work in Chrome, try downloading the PDF then opening it in Acrobat Reader.


  7. Hi, how could I find a author, if this window is emty?

  8. Hi lexconsult

    If the fields are empty, then you won’t find the author. It’s likely identifying information was removed from the Word document (or whatever software was used to create the document) BEFORE creating the PDF.


  9. If any one creates the pdf file to change the system date and entire file creates on back date and year. How can we know original data of creation of file. Pl suggest me.

  10. OMG this is amazing. I was at a total loss for how to cite a PDF, and now I know. Thank you so much!

  11. Many thanks. This very revealing.

  12. now a days, only current date is displayed on right clicking of properties icon of pdf document. How can we get actual date of creation, uploading, modification.

  13. Hi Manoj

    If you right-click Properties on the icon in Windows Explorer, you won’t get much information at all.

    As per the instructions above, you have to open the PDF, then, once it’s open, right-click anywhere inside the PDF and choose Document Properties. I just confirmed this by opening a PDF in Reader and in full Acrobat.


  14. So if someone has deliberately removed the date created/modified information, there is no way to do some kind of data forensics to find out the true date? We have a situation with an insurance company who has consistently shown bad faith and we think they’re doing it again, basically falsely claiming they sent something that no one received, and now “resending” it to meet their original legal commitment date

  15. Hi Maureen

    I doubt the ordinary person could find that information. Perhaps a data forensics company could.


  16. Someone gave me remote access to their desktop for me to downloaded a pdf file but now I am having difficulty back tracing that form to them. I cant find the author, creator or sender of the pdf format. How cant I do it?

  17. Does anyone know how to do this with a Mac?

  18. Hi all,

    Does anyone know what toggles will automatically fill in those fields upon creation of the PDF? We have some PDF files that contain the authors name and some that don’t, I want to be able to make sure all PDF documents created identify the author. We mainly use InDesign but some from Illustrator and a few through Word.

    Any help will be appreciated.

  19. Hi Paul

    If you’re using Word, then the authors need to have their names (and initials?) included under File > Options > General the Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office. And that they haven’t removed all identifying details using Document Inspector.


  20. It appears like the information in that field is who created the original file (in Word for what I’m doing) and not who created the pdf from the file.

  21. Hi Susan

    Yes, that’s the case. I assume that in the PDF creation process the author info is taken from the Word file’s properties. The person who creates the PDF isn’t necessarily the author (e.g. it may be an admin assistant). Even then, the author info may not be correct. I’ve seen cases where the ‘author’ is the name of the person who created the corporate template, which may not be correct either, as they are often not the same person who wrote the document. In this case, the author hasn’t changed the author details in the Word properties, either because they forgot, or because they didn’t know to do so, or didn’t know how.


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