Modern academic publishing is based to a large extent on the use of the Internet, and many of us consult articles or even books mostly in PDF format rather than hard copy. URL links to both reference material, and data sets or complementary material the author makes available to the reader are becoming commonplace, and are easily accessed from within a document that is consulted in electronic form.

However, in some cases the document can only be accessed in paper, which makes following a URL awkward. Examples of this could be some editions of books available only in paper form, or CVs (as discussed in this question on SE: Is it advisable to have many hyperlinks in an academic CV?).

In similar circumstances, both the manufacturing industries and the marketing sector tend to use QR codes that are easily scannable from a mobile device, such as this one containing the URL of Academia on SE:

QR code containing the URL of Academia on SE

To date, I have personally never seen the use of QR codes in academia.

My question is therefore: what major factors make the use of this technology less likely to become commonplace in academic publishing - or more likely, as the case may be?

Edit: thanks to a comment below, my attention has been brought to some scientific books by Elsevier and O'Reilly that do contain QR-codes to enrich content with online material. In both cases, the field were Computer Science and Technology in Medicine.

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    This is a comment as maybe I'm an outlier, but I'd find typing academia.stackexchange.com into a browser many times more convenient than using a smartphone with the appropriate app (my smartphone, new about two years ago, has no native QR reader and almost no space for new apps) to scan it. Not to mention I can easily write down the URL, and remember it.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 9:58
  • @dbmag9 This may be true in many cases. But what about this one (from my thesis): ark.intel.com/products/33082/…
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:03
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    I have seen academic books (e.g. by Springer) that feature a QR code on the cover, and another one at the end of each chapter, that links to the electronic article. Also, finding QR codes on posters presented during conferences, or even on slides, has become pretty much commonplace in my field (that doesn't mean everyone uses QR codes, just that I have frequently seen them used on almost every conference I have recently been to). Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:19
  • @O.R.Mapper Interesting, thanks. There are none in books I own, probably because they were originally published some years ago.
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 12:24
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    – Alec Teal
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 16:23

2 Answers 2


In my field it's increasingly frequent to see QR-codes on academic posters at conferences. They usually link to a downloadable version of the poster that replaces the handwritten email list that used to be pinned by each poster to request copies.

In one of the last one I made, I included QR-codes that linked to little GIF animations of my results. People could scan and watch the animation (finite elements models, motion measurements etc.) on their cell phone.

Their advantages in academic articles however is less evident, as most articles are read online and can include clickable links. Note also that journal article have an archival function and it's generally discouraged to publish links that might go obsolete. It's necessary to include all the information in the article itself or rely on the journal's own archival of external material. Hence, I believe, QR-codes are not useful in the context of published articles.

  • Had not thought of conference posters, good one.
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 14:11
  • +1 for use on posters. That seems like the one place where it would be more convenient to whip out my phone. I can then save the resulting link for later reading on a device with a real screen. :)
    – Kathy
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 14:50
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    In one of the last one I made, I included QR-codes that linked to little GIF animations - how many people actually scanned these? I see QR codes on posters occasionally, but I rarely see anyone actually scan them.
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 22:04
  • @ff524 I guess that sums up my motivation for asking this question; QR seems to be used quite a lot in certain situations (even aircraft boarding passes), but does not seem to have caught on in academia. Most people present at a conference will know how to use QR, but may not have the reflex to actually do it in this context.
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 9:47
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    Re usefulness of QR codes on published material, lots of people (like me) prefer to print a PDF rather than read it on the screen. The QR code might come in handy in this context IMO.
    – Miguel
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 14:48

I think this is a matter of convention and necessity. As you already point out, most documents are online. If something is online or in pdf form, having a QR code that is scanned with a phone is a waste of space, as the user can just click on the link instead.

In the case you are describing, I find it rare that any document would be only available in paper form, if it was made at any time since the invention of the QR codes existence (which it would need to be in order to have one).

The question also seems to be a rare situation. You are saying a new document is published, but it is only available in paper, but it contains other information that needs to be seen online. It is hard to imagine a document which is in paper, that contains some valuable data that needs to be viewed on an electronic system, in which the time saved from scanning a QR code on a phone and dealing with a phone screen outweighs the use of a tiny url or permalink typed into a computer.

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    Indeed, I agree with most of your comments. This question was in fact inspired by the discussion about the question on CVs that is referenced, where the committee evaluating candidates' CV would often have immediate access only to a printout of the same. Perhaps some manuals are also still published in paper form, to avoid or at least hinder issues with illegal distribution of PDF copies.
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:00
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    @ALANWARD Right, but the issue (currently) with QR codes in that context is the device. If they committee is on a desktop, or looking at a monitor with a projector shared, how will they scan the code onto the computer, and I for one do not enjoy serious reading on my phone. Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 10:02
  • "do not enjoy serious reading on my phone" - neither do I :-/ . There are QR code converters for computers, such as the qtqr software for Linux. However, the question as originally stated concerns more printed material than a projected electronic version. Granted, this is -as dbmag states in a comment- a bit of an outlier situation.
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 11:08
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    Worth mentioning that there's a tinyurl-like scheme already used for almost all research publications -- the DOI (Digital Object Identifier)
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 16:11
  • @BenVoigt Yes, perhaps QR could be a good way of scanning DOIs from paper support into a computer to access the content on-line. As for electronic supports, I would guess most of us do the now traditional Copy+Paste. ;-)
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 9:45

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