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The internet is in a constant state of change, with new content being added to the web by the minute and old content sometimes getting moved around. While the benefit of publishing scholarly outputs online is that it’s possible for them to be widely shared across different channels and updated as needed, the potential for online content to be moved, modified, or hosted in multiple places can also make keeping track of different versions tricky at times. That’s where Digital Object Identifiers or DOIs come into play.

A DOI is a persistent identifier (PID) for a piece of content online, such as a journal article, that is made up of a prefix and a unique suffix, and registered with accompanying metadata. Registering DOIs and metadata for all of your journal articles will ensure that even if you have to change the web address or the location of an article, or if there are authors circulating different versions of their articles online, readers and discovery services will be able to easily find the official published version of the article from its DOI.

You can obtain DOIs from any DOI registration agency. One of the most commonly used DOI registration agencies is Crossref, a not-for-profit membership organization that makes research outputs easy to find, cite, link, and assess. When content is registered in Crossref it includes the DOI and basic bibliographic metadata for the article (e.g. an up-to-date URL, author names, the title of the article, publication dates, etc.). Increasingly, publishers are also including non-bibliographic metadata such as ORCIDs, funder names, licenses, and abstracts when they register content with Crossref. This non-bibliographic metadata helps make their content more discoverable and useful to their readers and the scholarly communications community.

How can you start registering content and depositing metadata and DOIs with Crossref? And what are the benefits you can expect? We caught up with Anna Tolwinska, Member Experience Manager at Crossref, for a full breakdown on what you need to know to begin using DOIs from Crossref at your journal.

Becoming a Crossref member

The first step to obtaining DOIs from Crossref is to apply to become a Crossref member. In addition to the ability to register DOIs, Crossref membership comes with many benefits. Crossref has a global network of over 13,000 members and offers tools and services to help people around the world find, cite, and link to its member publications, making them more discoverable.

Crossref membership is open to organizations that publish professional and scholarly content, including presses, learned societies, and research institutions. You can find a detailed overview of how to apply to become a Crossref member on their website. Tolwinska explained that becoming a Crossref member comes with some responsibilities. “In order to become a member, register content and deposit metadata and DOIs, you’ll need to meet the criteria set out in Crossref’s governing by-laws and review and agree to Crossref’s terms and conditions,” she said. You can fill out the Crossref membership application form online here. Once you fill out and submit your application, Crossref will review it and start processing it.

Registering DOIs with Crossref

Once your publishing organization is admitted as a Crossref member, you can start the DOI registration process outlined here. Tolwinska provided a walkthrough of the process. “After the journal publisher pays the initial annual membership fee they are considered a Crossref member, we issue them a prefix — which is the first part of the DOI — plus a username and password for their Crossref account,” Tolwinska explained. “When they receive the prefix and account details they are ready to start registering content. Members create DOIs by using the assigned prefix and by adding their own unique suffix (Prefix + Suffix = DOI). We recommend keeping the DOIs short, especially since they will be visible and displayed as a URL on the article page. Members prepare their deposit by gathering all DOIs, the URLs where the content sits, and all metadata associated with the article, which includes the basic bibliographic metadata and other additional non-bibliographic metadata such as authors’ ORCID iDs, references, abstracts, full-text-links and license info (if available).”

Tolwinska explained that journals can either register content and input metadata manually for each DOI or automate DOI registration and deposits. “All of this metadata can be submitted to Crossref using XML to our system interface or by HTTP POST. Many members generate their own XML using our deposit schema but we also have a way to do it by entering the information manually (via our web deposit form) if you aren’t able to generate XML. Once that information is with us, the content is registered immediately and the DOI is available right away and part of the global scholarly citation network of over 13,000 members registering over 106 million scholarly items, from more than 130 countries.”

You can find more details about the different content registration options on the Crossref website here.

As noted by Crossref’s head of metadata Patricia Feeney in a recent interview, the richer a journal’s metadata is, the more discoverable and index-friendly it will be. Crossref now offers a tool called “Participation Reports“ (currently in beta) that member journals can use to check the quality of the machine-readable metadata associated with each of their Crossref DOIs.

In addition to assigning DOIs at the article level, journals can choose to have a journal title-level and issue-level DOI as well, and can incorporate components of articles such as images and figures. Since researchers tend to search for individual articles online, rather than journals or issues, Tolwinska said having article DOIs remains key.

One of the most important things to remember when it comes to DOIs is that they don’t update themselves. Publishers are responsible for maintaining the metadata they register with Crossref to ensure that it’s always up to date.

“You shouldn’t forget about your DOIs once you deposit them. If the content moves somewhere online and you don’t update the article’s URL in the metadata with Crossref the DOI won’t work, researchers will come across frustrating dead links, and that is what the whole infrastructure aims to avoid,” Tolwinska explained.

It’s very important to update the metadata you registered with Crossref if you change the location of your articles on your website. If your content moves, be sure to update your URLs. You can also make any minor corrections to your metadata or add additional metadata, such as funding and license information, at any time.

“Because online journals switch publishers and hosting platforms quite often, the URLs behind the DOIs do tend to change,” said Tolwinska. “So it’s really crucial for publishers and editors to keep that in mind when they become Crossref members.”

Crossref membership benefits

What are the benefits of becoming a Crossref member, aside from creating unique identifiers for the official versions of your journal articles? There are many including:

  • Having your metadata delivered to major discovery services
  • Linking your content with Crossref’s growing network of scholarly research
  • Using Crossref’s metadata to find out how your publications are being cited
  • Being able to conduct content similarity checks for editorial originality

Tolwinska said the main benefit of Crossref membership and DOIs is making your content easy to find, cite, link, and assess. “Richer metadata will make your content more discoverable and useful to a variety of different groups in our scholarly community. The metadata you register in Crossref is standardized and machine-readable. The more metadata you deposit with your article, the easier it will be to find it because various discovery tools and services will pick it up faster, as will search engines and library systems that are now based on metadata searches. Our free metadata search tool is also one of the most used services we provide, along with our REST API, so having your content discoverable via these two routes is a major plus. A really important part of being a Crossref member is depositing as much – and as error-free – metadata as possible.”

For newer journals that are still gaining a readership and developing their reputation, adding DOIs to articles can help raise awareness of the publication. This is especially true for arXiv overlay journals, which can use DOIs as a way to denote which articles on the arXiv are published via the journal. For example, Discrete Analysis uses DOIs to designate final published articles. Crossref members are also obligated to participate in reference linking (link to each other’s content using DOIs from their citation lists), giving every article more exposure.

Crossref also integrates with ORCID, a not-for-profit effort to generate a registry of persistent researcher identifiers. Crossref publisher members that include ORCIDs in their metadata deposits, can now have those articles automatically added to authors’ ORCID records (with the author’s permission). In this way journals can offer authors added value by helping them keep their ORCID records up-to-date and increase the visibility of their published works.

Tolwinska said the increased discoverability that DOIs offer articles benefits journals, as well as their authors and readers. “Readers are more likely to find and cite articles with DOIs, which helps them and the journal. Authors also like to submit manuscripts to journals that are more discoverable because more people will read their research. So it sort of all connects in the big scholarly communications realm.”

This post was originally published on April 16, 2016 and updated on July 5, 2019.