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What is the advantage of a DOI?

You have likely encountered Digital Object Identifiers, or DOIs, when compiling a reference list; you may have learned that it’s best practice to cite the DOI rather than a URL when one is available. If you’ve published a journal article or book chapter, the publisher may have assigned the work a DOI. Why are DOIs valuable?

A DOI is a unique, persistent identifier that can be assigned to any digital object. In scholarly publishing, DOIs are assigned to digital forms of publication. They are commonly assigned to journal articles, and they can also be assigned to books, book chapters, and other projects.

When a publisher wants to assign DOIs to its content, it works with a DOI registration agency. There are a limited number of DOI registration agencies, and each has different requirements for using its services. For example, some registration agencies serve only certain countries; others only assign their DOIs to certain genres or types of items. When a publisher registers content with a DOI registration agency, it provides metadata about the content, such as the item’s type, title, author, and date, and the URL to which the DOI should direct the user. If the URL of a resource changes, the publisher updates the DOI’s metadata with the new URL, ensuring the DOI’s persistence.

A crucial advantage of a DOI is its promise of persistence; the DOI should continue to direct a reader to its assigned resource in perpetuity. Whereas a URL may change or a Web page may be taken offline, a DOI continues to point to the same resource. When a work is cited using its DOI, a reader will always be able to locate the work, even if its URL changes.

In addition, the metadata recorded in the DOI is machine-readable, which can make the publication more discoverable: digital research tools can draw upon the metadata associated with a DOI to help researchers find the work. Publishers assign DOIs to ensure that readers and researchers will be able to find the work; DOIs also help publishers track how the work is being cited on the Internet.

As an author, you may also be interested in making sure people can reliably find your work and in tracking the ways your work is being cited. As you update your scholarly online presence, you can link to your work using DOIs. If you have an ORCID iD (a persistent identifier for a researcher), you can use DOIs to populate your ORCID profile, interlinking the metadata for your publications with metadata about you as a researcher. The unique identifier of a DOI can also make it easier to track references to your work, both in formal citations in scholarly publications and, using Altmetric toolsin the news and social media.

DOIs are an important part of the digital infrastructure for scholarly publishing. They are valuable for writers, readers, and publishers who want to ensure that digital publications are available and discoverable for the long term.

—The Modern Language Association, September 2021