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Understanding and Using Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)

Table of Contents:

What is a DOI?
  • Definition
    A digital object identifier (DOI) is a unique string of characters used to identify and/or locate an article, book or other "object." The objects are often, but not always, available in electronic format. DOIs are intended to provide permanent, stable access to or information about these objects. One common application is to allow people to find articles quickly and easily without worrying about old or broken links. In the APA 6th Edition citation style, the inclusion of a DOI is the preferred method of citing the location of objects.
  • How does a DOI work?
    Publishers are in charge of acquiring DOIs for their articles or other publications. The publishers collaborate with an organization called CrossRef, which maintains a database that keeps track of a current web address associated with each DOI. Publishers are responsible for ensuring that if the web address for a document changes, the reference for the DOI is updated.
How do I find the DOI for an article I have?
  • On the document or in the database
    Technically, the DOI should be printed on the first page of the document. It will usually be preceded by "doi:" and will begin with a 10 followed by several decimal places, a slash and a string of characters: 10.XXX/XXXXXXX. Many databases will also list the DOI somewhere in the record.

    In many cases, however, DOIs have been assigned after the documents initial publication. In such cases, you will have to use one of the below methods for obtaining the DOI.
  • Find DOIs from CrossRef.org
    There are a couple of options available from the CrossRef.org site to find a DOI. If you have any citation information, you can use their Guest Query Form to look up the DOI. In many cases, you will only need the name of the first author and article title.

    If you have many articles for which you need to find DOIs, you can use the "Simple Text Query" to look up many articles at once. You will, however, need to register your email address with CrossRef first (see instructions on page). Once you have a registered your email, you can copy and paste a list of citations to find DOIs for all of the articles.
  • Does the article have a DOI?
    If you are unsure whether or not the publication you are looking for has an assigned DOI, you can look it up using the Browsable Title List from CrossRef. It will allow you to input a journal or book title to see whether the publisher has acquired DOIs for the objects. You will also be able to see for what range of dates of publication the articles have DOIs.
How can I use a DOI to find full text of an article?
  • CrossRef.org
    You can enter your DOI into a resolver, available from CrossRef.org. This is the primary website for information about DOIs. The CrossRef.org DOI resolver has also been reproduced below.
  • DOI Resolver
    Type or paste the DOI into the box below and press submit to find full text.
  • Limitations
    There are some important limitations in using the DOI to find full text. Most journal articles are not available for free to the general public and require special access, usually provided through a library. If you are off-campus and locate an article, you may be denied access to an article because the publisher will not know that you are associated with the University or its library. To mitigate this problem, you can login to the library's proxy, or putting http://proxy.lib.odu.edu/login?url= before the URL. For example: http://proxy.lib.odu.edu/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02640470610689151.

    Another problem may occur because access to articles is often available from more than one location. If the library has purchased access to an article from a location other than the one pointed to by the DOI, you may be denied access.

    If you are asked to pay for the article, you may need to access the article using another method. The most reliable method is to look up the journal using the method described in this tutorial. In some cases, you may need to request the article through Interlibrary Loan.
Limitations of the DOI
  • No DOI available
    Not all articles or electronic documents have DOIs. It is up to publishers to obtain and pay for DOIs, and many, especially small publishers, may choose not to. There also may be cases where the publisher has chosen to obtain DOIs for current articles but not older ones.
  • Limitations for finding full text
    There are some important limitations in using the DOI to find full text. Most journal articles are not available for free to the general public and require special access, usually provided through a library. If you are off-campus and locate an article, you may be denied access to an article because the publisher will not know that you are associated with the University or its library. To mitigate this problem, you can login to the library's proxy, or putting http://proxy.lib.odu.edu/login?url= before the URL. For example: http://proxy.lib.odu.edu/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/02640470610689151.

How do I use a DOI to cite using APA 6th Edition?
  • Including the DOI in a citation
    In APA 6th Edition Style, the DOI should be included in the reference list citation if it is available. The format should follow the example: doi:0000000/000000000000

    If the list of citations will be accessed by users electronically, you can make the DOI into a link using the "http://dx.doi.org/" prefix (the prefix should not be visible). For example: doi:10.1108/02640470610689151
  • What if there isn't a DOI?
    If an electronic article or other work does not have ave a DOI, you can cite the location from which you accessed the work. For more details, follow the below link to resources from Purdue OWL.
  • From Purdue OWL APA Formatting and Style Guide
    For more citation information, consult the Electronic Resources page from the Purdue OWL APA Formatting and Style Guide.
If you have questions about DOIs or need help, please contact me:

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