Understanding DOI in Journal Publishing

Table of Contents


What is DOI in journal publishing?

DOI, or Digital Object Identifier, has become indispensable to scholarly publishing and communication.

Though not obvious at first glance, these alphanumeric strings are crucial in ensuring the accuracy and persistence of citations and links to journal articles, books, and other academic works.

As online publishing becomes the norm, the adoption of DOIs has skyrocketed among publishers, libraries, and researchers alike. But what exactly are DOIs, and why are they vital for today’s digital scholarship ecosystem? This introductory section will highlight the basics of DOI in journal publishing and their significance in contemporary academia.

What is a DOI?

A DOI is a unique and permanent identifier assigned to digital objects like journal articles, ebooks, datasets, images, etc. Think of it as a “birth certificate” of scholarly materials, each having a unique string of characters. My organization (a university press) began adopting DOI in journal publishing eight years ago.

DOIs allow these digital objects to be reliably located, even if their online location changes. The DOI system was developed in the 1990s to address the growing challenge of persistently identifying online academic content.

Unlike URLs, which can break when webpages move or disappear, DOIs are permanent. Each DOI has a prefix unique to the registrant (usually the publisher) and a suffix unique to the object.

These create an alphanumeric string like “10.1000/182” that points to the object’s current location. The DOI can be updated to the new URL if that location changes.

How DOIs Are Assigned

DOIs are managed by registration agencies like Crossref and DataCite (we work with Crossref for our DOI implementation).

Publishers or content creators work with these agencies to register DOIs for their content. The registration process involves providing essential metadata like title, author, and publication date, which enables accurate identification. Once a DOI is registered, it is permanently tied to that content.

DOI Structure

A DOI has two components—a prefix and a suffix—separated by a forward slash. The prefix identifies the registrant, while the registrant chooses the suffix to identify the content uniquely.

For example, in the DOI “10.1000/182”, “10.1000” is the prefix indicating the publisher, and “182” is the suffix identifying the specific article. DOIs use a centralized handle system to redirect users to the current location of content. Even if the content moves, the DOI remains the same, ensuring persistent access. The underlying metadata allows the DOI system to route users to the right place.

The persistence of DOIs makes them invaluable for scholarly communication. Researchers can have confidence that DOIs in reference lists will continue to link to the correct articles or data sources, even years later. This ensures that citations and references hold up over time, enabling readers to verify and build upon previous work efficiently.

DOI Adoption of DOI in Journal Publishing

Initially slow to gain traction, the adoption of DOI in journal publishing has rapidly accelerated over the past decade.

DOI in journal publishing

A study conducted in 2016 examined the implementation of DOIs in two major multidisciplinary databases, Web of Science Core Collection and Scopus, over the decade from 2005 to 2014. The results showed that the adoption of DOI in journal publishing had increased by almost 20% over this period. However, the implementation remained relatively low in proceedings, book serials, and books, at approximately 30%.

The study also revealed differences in DOI adoption across various disciplines. Life sciences had the highest annual percentage of documents with DOIs, increasing from 71.77% in 2005 to 88.08% in 2014. Physical sciences and health sciences were not far behind, with only a difference of 3 percentage points below the values for life sciences. On the other hand, the social sciences & humanities showed a slower rate of DOI adoption, with less than 20% implementation.

Why are DOIs important in Journal Publishing?

The digital age has revolutionized the world of academic publishing. With the proliferation of online journals and digital libraries, readers can now access scholarly articles with the click of a button. However, this convenience comes with a major challenge – how do we reliably cite and track these dynamic digital resources? This is where DOIs become invaluable.

DOIs have become indispensable tools for facilitating the citation and discovery of journal articles and other scholarly publications. Without DOIs, accurately locating an online article can be frustratingly difficult.

Research relies heavily on being able to build upon previous work. By assigning unique IDs, DOIs make journal articles easy to find and access through search engines and academic databases. This amplifies readership and citations for authors.

URLs may change when journals migrate platforms or restructure their websites. But with a DOI, readers can reliably access the definitive version of a cited work. DOIs also power cross-referencing and citation linking between articles, benefiting readers and publishers.

Readers can easily navigate to related articles, while publishers can track citations to their content. DOIs help publishers demonstrate the impact of their journals by improving article discoverability and citation metrics.

DOIs underpin plagiarism checks and other attribution services that ensure authors get proper credit for their work. Adopting DOIs has enabled new levels of transparency and reproducibility in scholarship.

Additionally, DOIs enable proper attribution and credit for researchers. They allow readers to locate the definitive version of an article reliably, ensuring authors get recognized for their work. By tracking DOIs, publishers can analyze citation metrics to quantify the reach and impact of their publications.

In sum, DOI in journal publishing is vital as it facilitates accurate citation, enhances the discoverability of articles, and ensures authors get proper credit for their scholarship. For an ecosystem that depends on reliable access and attribution and builds on previous knowledge, DOIs provide an indispensable layer of persistence and standardization.

How DOIs Benefit Journal Publishers

Adopting DOI in journal publishing has brought numerous benefits to academic journal publishers. By assigning a unique, persistent identifier to each published article, DOIs make it easier to track and measure the impact of scholarly publications.

Increased Discoverability and Accessibility

DOIs improve the visibility and discoverability of journal articles by providing a standardized way to identify content online. Researchers can easily search and access articles using their DOI rather than relying on inconsistent URLs that may break over time. This leads to more views, downloads, and citations for published works.

Enhanced Usage Metrics

With DOIs, publishers can closely monitor how widely their articles are read and cited. DOI registration agencies provide publishers with usage statistics and altmetrics demonstrating readership and engagement. This data helps publishers identify their most impactful and popular content.

Simplified Linking and Cross-Referencing

DOIs enable seamless linking between related journal articles and other scholarly materials like datasets. Publishers can hyperlink references to DOIs rather than URLs, ensuring that citation links persist over time. This interlinking of content facilitates discovery through cross-referencing and citational networks.

In summary, DOIs empower publishers with tools to boost readership, demonstrate value, and position their journals as indispensable sources of high-quality research. Adopting DOIs has streamlined critical publishing workflows while expanding access to scholarly communication.

How DOIs Benefit Researchers and Readers

DOIs have significantly streamlined the research process for readers and authors of scholarly work. By providing persistent links to online resources, DOIs enable seamless access to referenced materials in journal articles, books, and other publications.

Simplified Discoverability

One of the most significant challenges researchers face is locating and accessing the sources cited in an article. Before DOIs, unstable URLs and link rot made this a frustrating and time-consuming task. With DOIs, researchers can quickly find and open referenced sources with just a click, thanks to the direct and reliable linking DOIs provide.

Accuracy in Citing Sources

DOIs also support proper scholarly attribution by facilitating accurate citation practices. They allow authors to identify and credit the sources used in their work precisely. Readers can also easily verify citations and follow the research trail. This ensures authors get recognition for their contributions and enables new research to build directly on previous findings.

Persistent Access to Referenced Material

Unlike regular URLs, which often break or change over time, DOIs are designed to be permanent, enduring links. This means that DOIs referenced in an article will continue to direct readers to the correct source material, even years after publication. Researchers can, therefore, confidently cite DOI-referenced sources, knowing the links will not degrade over time.

By streamlining discovery and access to sources while also strengthening citation integrity, DOIs provide immense value to producers and consumers of research. They have rapidly become essential to high-quality scholarship in the digital age.

Challenges of DOI in Journal Publishing

Despite its apparent benefits, the implementation of DOI in journal publishing still faces challenges. Some of these challenges include the following:

Incomplete Adoption

Despite the benefits, not all publishers and journals use DOIs. This is particularly true for older publications and some regions or disciplines where DOI adoption has been slower. As a result, there can be inconsistencies in citation practices and difficulties locating specific resources.

Metadata Quality

A DOI’s usefulness heavily depends on the metadata quality provided during registration. If this information is incomplete or inaccurate, it can lead to problems with discovery and citation.

While DOIs are designed to be persistent, they can still suffer from “link rot” if the URL they point to is not updated when the content moves. Publishers must maintain their DOIs and update the URLs as necessary.

Education and Awareness

Many researchers, especially those early in their careers or in less technologically advanced areas, may not fully understand the importance of DOIs and how to use them. More education and outreach are needed to ensure that DOIs are used effectively.

Future Directions of DOI

Some of the future directions of DOI include the following:

More Publishers Will be Open to DOI Adoption

Despite some hesitancy, the trend toward universal adoption of DOIs will likely continue, with more journals, publishers, and disciplines recognizing their value. This will improve the consistency and reliability of citations and make academic content easier to discover and access.

Enhanced Metadata

Future developments may see enhanced metadata standards, allowing for richer, more detailed information about each digital object. This could further improve discovery and enable new ways of linking and analyzing scholarly content.

Integration with Other Systems

DOIs could become more integrated with other digital systems used in research and publishing. For example, they could be linked to author identifiers like ORCID iDs, funding data, or altmetrics, providing a more holistic view of the research landscape.

New Uses and Applications

As digital scholarship evolves, new uses for DOIs may emerge. For example, they could be used to identify and link to datasets, software, protocols, or other types of digital research outputs.

While there are some challenges to overcome, the future of DOIs in journal publishing looks promising. They will continue to play a crucial role in facilitating the discovery, citation, and tracking of digital academic content.


In conclusion, this write-up has explored the vital role of DOI in journal publishing. We have seen how DOIs act as persistent identifiers that provide reliable, long-term links to online scholarly content.

DOIs ensure that citations and references point readers to the correct version of an article or other research output. DOIs make journal publishers’ content more discoverable, citable, and trackable. By assigning a unique DOI to each published article, publishers enable other researchers to find, access, and cite that content easily.

The DOI system also allows publishers to monitor the impact and usage of their publications. Researchers benefit from DOIs, too. DOIs simplify locating, retrieving, and accurately citing scholarly material.

Researchers can follow DOI links when writing new papers to access the sources referenced in their work reliably. This helps them build on existing knowledge and prevents errors from broken URLs. Readers likewise find it easier to follow DOIs to view the discussed research. With the accelerating transition to digital publishing, DOIs have become indispensable to the research community.

However, work remains to be done. Publishers should strive to assign DOIs to their full catalog of publications, both past and present. Researchers must actively use DOIs in their citations instead of relying solely on URLs. Readers should check for DOIs when trying to access referenced sources.

The message is clear – DOIs matter.

DOIs connect scholars to research, safeguard proper attribution, and pave the way for future discovery. As participants in the research ecosystem, we all have a role to play in promoting the adoption of DOIs. Doing so will improve academic work’s rigor, transparency, and longevity for generations to come. The time to act is now.

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