Image Credit: Steven Depolo

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 to update them at any moment, moving or modifying content can also make keeping track of different versions a bit tricky at times. That’s where digital object identifiers or DOIs come into play.

A DOI is a persistent link to a piece of content online that is made up of a prefix and a unique suffix. Adding DOIs to all your journal’s articles will ensure that even if you have to change your journal’s web address, or if there are authors circulating different versions of their articles, readers will be able to recognize the official version of an article by its DOI. Each DOI has bibliographic and other metadata behind it that includes the most up-to-date URL, or the location, of that piece of content online.

How can you get DOIs for your journal’s articles? And what are the benefits you can expect? We caught up with Anna Tolwinska, Member and Community Outreach Manager at Crossref, a DOI registration agent for scholarly outputs, for a full breakdown on what you need to know to begin using DOIs at your journal.

Registering a DOI with Crossref

Your journal can easily sign up to start adding DOIs to all of its content. In order to start adding DOIs to your articles, you’ll need to first become a Crossref member. You can fill out the membership application form online. Once you fill out and submit your application, Crossref will review it and then send you a membership agreement to sign.

“After a journal’s publisher or editor signs the agreement, and pays the initial annual fee, we issue them a prefix – which is the first part of the DOI – and give them a username and password for the Crossref system,” Tolwinska explained.

“Once they obtain the prefix from us they can create their own suffix for each article using the Crossref guidelines and give each of their articles a unique DOI. We recommend keeping them short, especially since they will be visible and displayed on the article page. They then have to create metadata files for each article which includes the URL, the DOI, and other key metadata such as authors’ ORCID iDs, references, abstracts, full-text-links and license info. These files then need to be deposited into our system. Once that information is with us, the content is registered and the DOI link is immediately available and part of the global scholarly citation network - a network of over 80 million scholarly items.”

For more technically-savvy journals, Tolwinska said it is also possible to automate the DOI deposit process for new articles. “If you have knowledge of XML, you can create your own XML files based on our schema, and use HTTPS POST to deposit in a more automated way.” Tolwinska said Crossref is currently consolidating its metadata tools to streamline the deposit process and reduce manual effort for publishers.

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

According to Tolwinska, 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 behind the DOI, to make sure 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.

The only time you have to worry about updating your journal’s DOIs is if you move your articles. Otherwise, for articles that remain in the same place, you can leave your DOIs as is. However, updates are always encouraged; for example, when there are corrections or additional metadata is available such as Funder IDs, references, or license information.

“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.”

Benefits of adding DOIs to your journal’s articles

So what are the benefits of adding DOIs to your journal’s articles, aside from creating a unique identifier for each version of record?

According to Tolwinska, the main benefit is enhancing article discoverability. “Different pieces of metadata will make your content more discoverable. The more metadata you deposit with your article, the more discoverable it will be because discovery services will pick it up faster, as will search engines and some 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 open Metadata 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 academic-led journals that are still gaining a readership and developing their reputation, adding DOIs to articles can help not only raise awareness of the publication but also lend legitimacy to articles by showing that they are official published versions of record. 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 also recently announced an integration with ORCID. 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 whether or not journals are able to gather and deposit all the recommended metadata, just the increased discoverability that DOIs generally 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.”

Danielle Padula

This post was written by Danielle Padula,
Community Development