DOIs and URLs on the Reference List

DOIs and URLs on the Reference List (APA 7th Ed.) Podcast

DOIs and URLs on the Reference List (APA 7th Ed.) Transcript

Greetings everyone. This is Kurtis Clements with another effective writing podcast. In this episode, I am going to discuss how to handle DOIs and URLs on the reference list of an APA formatted paper.

You’re probably thinking: I know what a URL is, but I’ve never heard of a DOI. What’s a DOI? DOI stands for digital object identifier, and it is a unique alphanumeric string of characters that corresponds with a specific source. A DOI is much like a URL in that it is a web link that takes someone to specific content. A DOI is unlike a URL in that a DOI is meant to provide a stable and persistent link to content.

We all know that content found on the web one day, may not be found the next. In addition, if you are conducting research, you may have access to sources in a library database but others might not, and thus those folks have no way to access the content. The DOI system attempts to resolve these kinds of situations by providing a means to locate content that does not change and which allows access for all. To put it simply, if a source has a DOI–and since most content can be found online nowadays, DOIs are becoming more and more common–anyone with the DOI should be able to find and access the content. In a sense, a DOI is like a telephone number for a resource—no two telephone numbers are the same, and if you have the number, you can connect with the person assigned that number. DOIs work the same way.

According to the DOI Foundation website, approximately 190 million DOIs are being used worldwide, and although not all sources have a DOI, the list of sources that do is growing. APA documentation style requires the use of DOIs for reference list entries when available.

So where do you find the DOI? In most cases, the DOI is usually placed on the first page of a source and/or on the database landing page (presuming you are accessing the database electronically). If you are working online, it’s best to copy and paste the DOI into the reference entry as it’s a many-characters long string of numbers and letters and listing an incorrect DOI is like dialing a wrong number.

The DOI should be apparent on the source, and it will appear in one of several formats: the oldest DOIs will begin with the lower-case letters doi and a colon or all upper-case letters for DOI and a colon, followed by the string of characters that begins with the number 10. Older DOIs also exist as links beginning with http:/ followed by and then the rest of the string. The preferred format for DOIs now is http:// or https:// followed by and then the rest of the string.

OK, enough with the background information on DOIs. Let’s get to the nitty gritty of what APA says about the DOIs and URLs on the reference list.

First, the DOI or URL will be the last piece of information in a reference entry. When including a DOI or URL, do not put a period at the end of the entry. In terms of the style of the DOI or URL, here’s what APA says: Hyperlinks for DOIs and URLs should function when clicked if the paper is meant to be read online. The hyperlink can be presented using the default setting of the word processing program which typically underlines the link and puts it in blue, or the link may be in plain text (black font and not underlined). Regardless, if the paper is meant to be read online, the hyperlink needs to be live.

URLs and DOIs can sometimes be quite long and often create unsightly patches of white space on the reference list. Because the visual design is important, APA allows for shortened versions of URLs and DOIs with one caveat: APA wants shortened DOIs to be constructed using the shortening service provided by the International DOI Foundation at

If you are shortening a URL, you can use any shortening service so long as the link takes one to the correct location. “What’s the correct location?” you ask. URLs should take one to the actual content that you are using in your paper. For example, if you are using an article in a newspaper accessed online, then the URL should go directly to the article, not just to the homepage of the newspaper.

Because links for DOIs and URLs are live and take readers directly to the content whenever possible, no wording prior to the hyperlink is needed–so no “Retrieved from” or “Accessed from” or the word “DOI.” Nothing at all.

Always use a DOI when available. If a work has a DOI and a URL, use just the DOI. If you use a print book and discover it has a DOI, use the DOI.

Since much research is done online and typically using academic research databases via a library accessed remotely, many wonder if the name of the research database should be included. When using an academic research database, if a source does not have a DOI, do not include the name of the database or the URL. In this regard, the reference entry will look just like the entry for the print version of the source.

Well, everyone, that does it for this podcast. I hope you found the information helpful. Thanks for listening. Happy writing.