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What is a DOI? Just the basics

November 16, 2010

Most of the students (and some of the faculty) I work with have no idea what a DOI is or why they should care.  This is what I tell them.

A DOI – Digital Object Identifier – is like a social security number for a journal article. They can be applied to other digital items as well, but you are most likely to encounter them in scholarly articles.

A DOI normally consists of numbers, letters and other punctuation.  It will look like this:

10.1016/j.acthis.2007.10.006

10.1186/1475-2875-9-284

The DOI provides a way to permanently find a particular item.  Publishers and scholarly societies change their websites all the time.  Recently, a major publisher completely re-did their website, messing up all links into their site.  I was quite annoyed.  But the DOI could still link you to an article in a way that a URL couldn’t.

Incidentally, you can use the DOI to create a nice, neat compact URL for a journal article (instead of those really log URLs provided by some databases).  You just need to add a little bit to the front of the DOI:

http://dx.doi.org/DOI

DOI LogoYou can also use the DOI to quickly look up an article from your libraries homepage or this webpage.

To get a DOI, a publisher registers with a non-profit organization called CrossRef, and they work with the publisher to assign a unique number.

Increasingly, journals and citation styles are requiring authors to include DOIs in article citations where available.

For additional (and much more technical) information about DOIs, see the DOI website or the Wikipedia article about DOIs.

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