DOI (digital object identifiers)

Yes, it’s true… sometimes we’re a little behind the times but we’re trying really hard to catch up with all things APA 6th Edition. Something we’re working on are DOIs (digital object identifiers). They are really quite handy in a reference list, especially for readers outside our institution who do not have access to our databases.

What Exactly is a DOI?

A DOI is a character string used to uniquely identify an electronic document, and is assigned by a publisher. The DOI for a document is permanent, whereas its location and other metadata may change. It provides a more stable way of linking to a document rather than referring to its URL. If the URL changes all the publisher needs to do is to update the metadata for the DOI so it will link to the new URL.

What’s Good About a DOI?

  • If you include a DOI as part of your citation in a reference list  there is no need to add the date or identify the database an item was retrieved from.
  • If you append to a DOI string, it turns  the DOI into an URL, and will take you to the publisher’s website. Try this

Studies in Second Language DOI

Where Are They?

There are a number of  ways to find out an article’s DOI. In the above example the “cite” button in ProQuest was used. In fact using the “cite” button made writing a reference list pretty easy – it was a matter of copying and pasting the citation into a reference list. ProQuest does a very nice job here, even typing the article title in sentence case.

If you have a journal in hand (i.e., print) look around the title page for the DOI. Here’s a tip: DOIs start with the number 10.

In the example above from Urban Education the DOI information is at the top of the page. In the example below from Exceptional Young Children it’s at the bottom.

Young Exceptional Children: DOI example

If you think an article should have a DOI but can’t find one, try using CrossRef’s free DOI Lookup.


  1. If an article has a DOI include it.
  2. If it doesn’t have a DOI but has a homepage web address use that.
  3. If it has neither, just cite it the old fashioned way.

Light, M. A., & Light, I. H. (2008). The geographic expansion of Mexican immigration in the
United States and its implications for local law enforcement. Law Enforcement Executive Forum Journal, 8(1), 78-82.

For more about DOIs visit the following:

Reference librarian at Bank Street College Library.

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