What’s a DOI?

Whenever possible, I try to link to a publicly accessible version of any scientific article I report on. Sometimes this is on ResearchGate, sometimes on an author’s academic website, sometimes even a course website. The benefit is that anyone can download and read the article; the downside is that these links sometimes disappear. Publishers issue takedown notices, academics change institutions, and courses end.

For these reasons, I usually provide, in addition to a publicly accessible link, a link that I can count on to not disappear (these appear at the end of the post, under “Stable Links”). Almost always, these are DOIs. DOIs are Digital Object Identifiers, persistent handles that are permanently assigned to particular documents. Almost all academic journals assign DOIs to all of their articles (Evolutionary Ecology Research is one exception, much to my annoyance), as do the preprint servers arXiv and bioRxiv and the digital data archive Dryad.

When the article is open access (this includes the preprint servers), the DOI is a publicly accessible link, and I’ll usually use it throughout the post. Otherwise, you’ll only be able to download the article using the DOI if you or your institution have a subscription to the journal. Not ideal, but at least I know the link will still go to the article if you’re reading my post a year later.

DOIs usually look something like this: 10.1186/s40529-018-0227-9. Sometimes there’s an abbreviated version of the journal name (e.g., 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001904 for PLoS Biology), sometimes just a string of numbers starting with “10”. If you’re looking at a printed DOI, or just one that isn’t a hyperlink, you can find the article by navigating to the DOI prefaced by doi.org (eg. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1001904).

You can also set your browser to treat DOI as a search engine. In Chrome, go to Settings–>Manage search engines, then click ADD. Fill out the dialogue box like this:


and hit SAVE. Now if you type “doi” and a space in the address bar, then type or paste the DOI, Chrome will take you to the article.


I’m sure the other major browsers can be set up in a similar way.

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