What Are DOIs for Research Papers and How Can I Find Them?
A DOI is a Digital Object Identifier. DOIs are now assigned to the grand majority of academic and scientific journal papers that are published in electronic (or digital) versions. The DOI assigned to each electronic article consists of a unique string of characters that identifies that document and only that document online. Whereas URLs for electronic papers can and do change if a journal or other hosting site decides to move its documents or simply alter file names and URLs, DOIs are permanent, so once assigned to papers, they will never change. This means that DOIs are more stable and reliable identifiers than URLs are, and that they can, at least theoretically, make it easier to find scholarly articles and identify them with certainty.

DOIs are now required as an aspect of full bibliographical references in many documentation styles, and their inclusion can be helpful for readers who wish to consult a particular source or simply read further on a topic. However, the DOI for a paper may not always be obvious to the researchers who cite the paper, so it is important to know how to find the DOI for a published article when constructing a list of references. The following advice applies generally to academic and scientific articles with assigned DOIs, but your own discipline or your institutional library may have commonly used databases or indexing services that will prove helpful as well.

The best place to begin looking for an academic or scientific paper’s DOI is in the paper itself. If the electronic version of an article has been assigned a DOI, it will usually appear on the first page of the document (generally a PDF). There may be a header at the top of the page that provides bibliographical information or a footer at the bottom of the page for this purpose. Either way, the DOI should appear there, generally at the end or sometimes the beginning of the bibliographical information. If a DOI does not appear in the article, other bibliographical information such as the journal title, date of publication, and volume, issue and page numbers should be there, and these can be used to locate the article on the journal’s website, where the assigned DOI is likely to be listed along with other metadata for the paper.

If neither the paper itself nor the website of the journal that published it provides a DOI, a free search can be made on Crossref.org, which stores data on millions of research papers that have been assigned DOIs. To find the DOI of a single article, go to the homepage, which features a box with two options: Search Site and Search Metadata. Choose the Search Metadata option and type or paste the article title exactly as it appears on the paper into the search line. Enclosing the title in quotation marks ensures that the search will be for that exact title and can increase the accuracy of the results, as can the inclusion of the first or primary author’s surname. Searches can also be done using only the author name or names, and the left column of the search results allows you to limit or filter those results by type of publication, year of publication and other factors.

If the article has a DOI, it should turn up in the list of Crossref results, and the DOI should appear at the bottom of its bibliographical record. Do note that the DOI will be part of a URL link, so if you require only the DOI, omit the ‘http://dx.doi.org/’ part at the beginning of the link and copy only the characters after it, which should begin with ‘10.’ Do be aware, however, that some documentation styles require a URL or a DOI in a URL format instead of a DOI alone. The referencing guidelines or instructions for authors that you are observing or the style manual those guidelines recommend should be consulted to see which is required for your list of references. If a URL is preferred, the whole link including the DOI will effectively lead your readers to the article.

Crossref also has a guest query page with two different search forms for finding DOIs: the first uses complete bibliographical information for the article and the second requires only the surname of the author and title of the paper. Another alternative is to paste the text of a bibliographical reference or even an entire list of references into the box of Crossref’s simple text query page. You will need an account for this query and it is a good idea to read the tips at the bottom of the page to obtain the best results, but it will usually make short work of finding DOIs for scholarly papers. If Crossref cannot find the DOI for an article, it is probable but not certain that it does not have one, so you may want to check other scholarly databases or ask your librarian for help. Do keep in mind, however, that not all academic and scientific articles have DOIs, which are a relatively recent phenomenon in the long history of scholarship and unlikely to be associated with older or print-only publications.

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