Few papers use DOIs in the reference section (example below). What are the downsides of using DOIs when listing references?

A typical example from one of the main conferences in the natural language processing field showing no DOI:

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    What field are you in? In my experience, most papers use DOIs in the reference section... as the addresses on hyperlinks, where they belong. If you are talking about explicit DOIs on the page, please say so explicitly. If you're talking about any DOI use at all, please specify your field.
    – E.P.
    Jul 2, 2016 at 18:25
  • @E.P. computer science, but curious about other fields as well. Jul 2, 2016 at 18:26
  • And you're saying that few papers have linked references in the pdf? Or that the links in those references do not use DOIs?
    – E.P.
    Jul 2, 2016 at 18:27
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    @E.P. Papers have on average a low number of DOIs in the reference section. It's based on my experience, I don't have any statistics. Jul 2, 2016 at 18:27
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    @E.P. they typically have neither hyperlinks nor DOI. I added one example in the question. Jul 2, 2016 at 19:04

4 Answers 4


To me, the primary reason for not including DOIs in the bibliography is the length restriction of the paper1. The DOI on its own doesn't work as a bibliographical entry, together with the human-readable information, it is redundant, and it adds roughly one line to the paper per entry. Therefore, a bibliography with DOIs is (by removing the DOIs) a welcome source of extra space for content that would otherwise have no space left.

1: In my field, length restrictions are typically tight (8 to 12 pages in two-column formats for "full papers") and to be taken seriously, and additionally aggravated by the fact that papers in my field typically include plenty of figures. Moreover, in my field, bibliographies are normally included in the length restriction or subject to their own length restriction (I have come across rules like "up to 8 pages, or up to 9 pages, if the last page only contains bibliography items").

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    This is absolutely the case for me. When it's time to trim paper length, the DOIs are the first thing to go because removing them is "free."
    – jakebeal
    Jul 2, 2016 at 16:26
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    DOIs are useful when it's a digital document and the link is clickable. Quick and easy way to check a reference. For printed media it's not particularly important. But I expect that to be an issue for the journal to handle when doing the final formatting, and not so much for me, though it tends to be an extremely easy thing to remove since it's usually just a package option or inclusion. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:41
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    @zibadawatimmy: Indeed - and for that purpose, I'd prefer if the LaTeX style to use either simply made the reference or the enumeration symbol a DOI-based link (without printing the full DOI), or if it put the link encoded as a clickable QR code on the margin next to each bibliography item (like that, the DOI link would even still be useful in printed versions). Unfortunately, no conference/journal styleguide in my field that I know of has bothered to introduce such a concept so far. Jul 2, 2016 at 22:50
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    @O.R.Mapper I think the most natural anchor for a DOI-based link is the title (or the journal info (journal, volume, pages, year) if the style omits titles). This feature is actually fairly easy to add to any bibtex style.
    – JeffE
    Jul 2, 2016 at 23:07
  • @JeffE: That is true - so, while it is not something that a single set of authors can do for their papers, maybe such a feature could indeed be introduced rather easily, at least by some workshop organizers. Jul 3, 2016 at 9:38

There's no downside for me, but finding them can be challenging. I just looked at several recent downloaded articles, and I don't see a DOI on the front page. So, I'd say my personal inertia keeps me from digging around on the Internet looking for a DOI to add to my BibTeX entries for each paper I want to cite. I try to add them when they're immediately presented on the papers I cite, since they do have to be found. But having to go look to find them makes them less likely for me to use. Not every paper has a DOI that is readily found. There's no step in my workflow when writing where I go through all my DOI-less citations and try to find one. Maybe that's a bad habit, but it is my habit. I suspect that's true for many authors, but I think you have a bad assumption that there's some downside to DOIs that prevents people from using them. It's not enough of a requirement yet that people do it because journals or the community demand having them on every citation so that people get over their inertia and go find them or figure out if every citation even has one.

  • Thanks, no assumption on my side :) Your answer is pretty much what I had in mind (more than the length restriction as in my field reference space is quite often unlimited), I wanted to know whether they are downsides I might not be aware of. Empty set is a valid answer. Jul 2, 2016 at 16:09
  • @FranckDernoncourt, sorry, I smelled an assumption in your question, i.e. that there must be some bad reason that people don't use DOIs more since you ask about a "downside". My response was that I'm too lazy to always go find them not that there's necessarily a downside.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 3, 2016 at 15:18

I can speak for mathematics, where virtually no papers are cited with DOIs. Indeed, I confess to only a vague understanding of what they are (and I suspect most mathematicians would say the same).

The only downsides of which I'm aware are that they would take some effort to look up, and take a little bit of space. I think the reason they aren't used is because mathematicians don't see any obvious need or benefit. At any rate, I glanced through the DOI FAQ just now and didn't see any compelling use case.

Perhaps this is because we have MathSciNet (Mathematical Reviews), a searchable database of essentially every modern math paper that has been published in a reputable journal, with reviews and links to online versions (when available). Indeed, sometimes citations include the "review number" from this database. I don't bother, because it is just as easy to look up papers by author name and title, but some people do.

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    One remark: if you get your bibtex entries from Mathscinet (and you should, because they are much better than any other source), then they already include a DOI. It's just a matter of changing your preamble to use a bibliography style that supports them, and they will be displayed. Jul 3, 2016 at 9:14
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    And a second remark to explain the use case for DOIs: they are essentially permalinks for papers. That's all there is to say, basically. They are guaranteed not to become deadlinks, and they are shorter than the ones you see in your browser's bar. Jul 3, 2016 at 9:17

They occupy precious space on a page. For journals that publish in print, this costs money. In other cases, papers are subject to page limits, and adding DOIs would take away from space that could be used to describe results.

  • Many venues (conferences especially) I've published in exclude the references in the page length, though they may limit the number of references you may have. I don't like this any more than a hard page limit, b/c I think the references are the references. Which one should I remove?
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 2, 2016 at 16:33
  • @BillBarth Absolutely not the reviewers' papers! Jul 2, 2016 at 17:02

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