Full Text? HTML, PDF, and EPUB

Full Text Options

You might also see an option to limit your results to full text. Full text means that you will have full access to the resource. If you want to be able to read the article or view the resource, make sure that the full text option is selected. If you see search results that only bring back a summary, an abstract, or a citation for an article, it’s most likely because you didn’t select the “full text” option in your search filters.

Sometimes, there may be different ways to read the full text of an article or ebook. You might see HTML, PDF, or ePUB presented as options, and each format has strengths and weaknesses. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which one to use. But you will want to be familiar with each type, because sometimes the resource you want to use will only be available in one of them.


HTML icon shows a page with code symbol

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. This is the basis for all text online. When you see HTML as an option to access the full text of an article or an ebook, it means the article will be presented as text only—much like text on a website, but without any flashy graphics or images. Just the text. What’s great about this is that the text can be manipulated by the library database—manipulated in a good way. It can be converted into other languages, or the library database can read the text aloud or generate a file for you to download an audio version of the resource. HTML full text also tends to load rather quickly, and you can easily copy, highlight, and search through the text using keyboard shortcuts such as CTRL+F or Command+F. There are also disadvantages: Because there are no graphics or images (or when they are available, they are often separate from the text), you can lose context and vital information. Page numbers may be missing, and the text itself may have been loaded with errors from the original source. These can all be very problematic if you will be citing the resource.


PDF icon shows file with Adobe logo

PDF stands for “portable document format” and describes a document that retains or reflects the formatting of a formally published, printed document, with all the images and charts, page numbers, and publication information. In some PDFs, it is possible to select and copy the text, and the text can be recognized by screen readers and other accessibility software. Other PDFs are a scanned image of an original printed document, and the file may not be readable as text by your computer—it might just see an image. This makes it hard to copy and highlight text, and nearly impossible for the computer to translate it into a different language. Depending on the file size and the speed of your internet connection, some PDFs might take longer to load. But you can download them and save the file to read offline later, which is not always possible or easily done with HTML-based resources. Overall, though, PDFs are preferable when doing academic research, and are highly recommended to use because they preserve the look of the original source.


ePUB icon dhows file with ePub logo that looks like lower case "e"

EPUB can be described as a cross between PDF and HTML. This is a file type that you can download and access offline, that will have images embedded within it. But like HTML, the text can be manipulated by the computer or device. EPUBs are adaptable to screen size; text can be reformatted to be easily read on various devices, such as a smartphone or tablet. A PDF doesn’t have that flexibility. The text in EPUBs can be recognized by screen readers and other accessibility software more easily than in PDFs. Disadvantages are that you will find EPUBs almost exclusively with ebooks, and you will need a separate EPUB reader software to read the resource offline; whereas most devices come equipped with PDF readers, not all devices have an EPUB reader installed.


Image: “ePUB” by Freepik, adapted by Aloha Sargent, from Flaticon.com

Image: “HTML” by Freepik, adapted by Aloha Sargent, from Flaticon.com

Image: “PDF” by Freepik, adapted by Aloha Sargent, from Flaticon.com


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Introduction to College Research Copyright © by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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