DOIs and URLs

Karen Hellekson's picture

I recently received an e-mail from the DOI folks announcing that the styling doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271 (with the doi: prefix run into the DOI number) may be replaced with the actual URL that the DOI links to—in this case, This is big news indeed! But it is news that is unlikely to result in immediate action on anybody’s part.

For those of you unaware of DOIs, which remain relatively rare in the humanities but which are used extensively in the sciences, it’s a scheme meant to permit URLs to persist. Instead of a “permanent” URL pointing to a journal article, book, or other element, a DOI is assigned. The DOI is included with the publication so scholars can cite it. Then, in theory, someone who wants to access the article can just type in the DOI and be taken the article’s primary page. This can be the article itself, but more commonly it is a summary page, with citation info, abstract, and the like, plus perhaps an opportunity to purchase the article (example here). Then, when a Web site is totally restructured, as it inevitably is, the journal just deposits new URLs associated with the DOIs, and magically, the DOIs continue to hit.

According to the note from DOI, they had hoped or assumed that the doi: prefix would be automatically rendered by browsers to take you right to the DOI, so you could just copy or hotlink “doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271″ in a browser, and you’d be taken right to the correct summary page. This hasn’t happened, though, and bowing to the inevitable, DOI has given their blessing for the DOIs’ related URLs to be used instead. The DOI URL prefix “” simply replaces the “doi:” part. I can see DOI’s logic in preferring to hope that the “doi:” would be made to automatically hit, because now “” is going to have to persist. The “doi:” styling also has the beauty of being immediately differentiated from a URL, which is good because DOIs and URLs are different things.

This new styling may take a while to trickle down to common usage. For example, the latest (16th) edition of the Chicago Manual of Style provides styling information that uses the doi:10.3983/twc.2011.0271 protocol, and it’s much, much easier to point authors to a published style than to make exceptions. Oh, the irony! No sooner does Chicago get on board than DOI permits this new style.

Meanwhile, for those of you taking seriously various styling guidelines requesting DOIs, you may look up a small number of them at’s DOI Lookup. You may also sign up for an account to do automated batch queries.

Filed under: essay

Karen Hellekson

Publication date (from feed): 

Fri, 05 Aug 2011 10:08:31 +0000