While DOIs – or digital object identifiers – can be incredibly useful for providing persistent and permanent digital addresses for published works, they are also notorious among scholars for being, well, a pain. Here are some tips for finding DOIs efficiently and including them in your reference list accurately.
The digital object identifier (DOI) – a regulated way of digitally identifying an object so it can be persistently accessed even when its location or ownership changes – was introduced in 1997, and the DOI Foundation was formed the next year. Almost two and a half decades later, more than 1 billion DOIs are resolved every month, according to the DOI Foundation.
Though the recommendations for when and how to include a DOI differ, all major style guides – including APA, MLA, AMA, and Chicago – require some form of including DOIs. Despite their value, being asked to fill in an entire reference list of DOI numbers can seem like a daunting task for authors.
What’s the big deal about DOIs?
DOIs “allow things to be uniquely identified and accessed reliably. You know what you have, where it is, and others can track it too”, according to the DOI Foundation. In addition to providing a persistent and permanent way of finding digitally published works, DOIs provide transparency and traceability along the lifespan of the work. It also makes citing – and keeping track of citations – much easier.
We do everything we can to make sure the things that our community cares about are identifiable and reliably accessible. Now, when they need it, and over time when future generations will need it.– DOI Foundation
How to find DOIs
When you’re asked to supply DOI numbers for your reference list, it doesn’t need to instill dread. With a few tips and tricks, you’ll have it done in no time.
DOIs are almost always available for articles. Crossref provides a quick DOI search funtion. While this allows searching multiple references at once (i.e., an entire reference list), it does require one reference per line; thus, it may be more efficient to search one reference at a time as you edit your reference list.
Beware! Sage journals often replace the slash in the DOI with “%2F” when you copy and paste – even when choosing to “copy link” – be on the lookout! To be safe, you could do a quick “find and replace” in your reference list.
Google Scholar can also be an efficient way to find DOIs: Copy and paste the article title and everything after it (journal, vol., iss., & pages) into the search bar. Most often, the first entry is what you want to click on, and the DOI will likely be apparent at the top of the page. (Rarely, you may have to scroll to the bottom of the page, particularly for online-only articles.)
Don’t trust the “cite this” function! It is most often not updated to the latest version of any given style, and it usually contains errors or missing information (e.g., no subtitle, issue no., page range, or DOI).
Some Journals, especially those hosted by JSTOR, have “persistant URLs” instead of DOIs. These will show up in a Google Scholar search, but not the Crossref search.
Routledge and Taylor & Francis (same platform) almost always have DOIs. They also host a few smaller publishers. Directly search for books published by Routledge or Taylor & Francis using the search bar on their website.
Springer and Palgrave Macmillan (same platform) often have DOIs. Directly search for books published by Springer or Palgrave with the search bar on their website. (Note: You will probably need to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to find the DOIs for these books.)
Avoid the mistake of providing the DOI of a book review instead of the book itself! Sometime in our haste, these slip through.
For other publishers, a good strategy is to copy the book title and publisher and do a regular Google search(not a Google Scholar search). Look for the publisher’s website in the search results (not, e.g., Amazon, Goodreads, or even Google Books). If the publisher’s website is not immediately apparent, it probably doesn’t have a DOI.
Sources without DOIs
Sometimes only a URL is available, and these can also be useful to include.
Avoid URLs that have long strings of unintelligible letters, numbers, and symbols. In these cases, it is better to include the general database or website where someone can search – or no URL at all.
Retrieval or access dates are usually only needed for sources that are intended to be updated over time. Online newspaper articles, PDFs, and social media posts (a whole other topic to write about) usually do notneed a retrieval or access date. Databases, “about” pages, and social media profiles, on the other hand, usually do need a retrieval or access date.
Formatting DOIs and URLs
In general, when copying a DOI, right-click and select “copy link” rather than highlighting it and “copying”. The former will give you a format-free version that won’t cause issues when you paste into Word. It will also more often than not provide you with the full URL (see next point below) instead of just the latter part of the number.
If you have a choice as to what style guide you use, choose one that allows the DOI to be presented as a full URL (including “https://doi.org/”), and don’t include a period after the DOI. The point of DOIs is to make it easy for readers to access the source, and a period risks being included in the link, causing it to not resolve. This advice is also supported by Crossref’s DOI display guidelines.
Double-check that there are no extra spaces within the link after pasting or manually completing a DOI or URL.
If you made it through this article, it means you care (even just a little) about DOIs. If you want to learn more, APA provides a useful overview DOIs and URLs.
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