Why DOI is preferred to URL in Academic Papers

Diverse scholarly articles are retrieved online by researchers and most reference list entries in articles end with either a DOI or a URL. You may have been coming across these two acronyms in the list of references of research works. As researcher in the field of mass media studies or other research areas, you may have even used them without completely understanding the difference between the two. Well, they are not the same and they are used for different articles with different features. The basic way to know their differences and when to use them is to know their meanings. The DOI or URL is the final component of a reference list entry. Here’s a quick difference between URL and DOI as used by mass media researchers and scholars from other disciplines while referencing materials accessed online.

What is URL?

This is the acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. It is colloquially called a web address. This refers to a reference to a web resource that specifies its location on a computer network and a mechanism for retrieving it. The URL is not the same as a domain name though some people use the terms interchangeably. Let’s use a website to explain the difference between URL and domain name. The big difference is that while the domain name is the name of the website, the URL is a link that leads to individual articles or pages on that website. For instance, Massmediang is the domain name of a website but individual articles posted on the website have URL used in locating them. For example, this URL – https://massmediang.com/what-is-vodcasting/ – is for an article entitled “What is Vodcasting” published on Massmediang.com.

The URL incorporates the domain name, along with other detailed information, to create a complete address (or “web address”) which directs a browser to a specific page online called a web page. This means that the URL is a set of directions which is unique to every web page. No two web pages can have the same URL.


Here are examples of URL used in research articles in mass media and communication research works;


Raman, R. (2015, August 5). What the evolution of television means for the world. Retrieved from the World Economic Forum Web site: http://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/08/what-the-evolution-of-television-means-for-the-world/


Nielsen Company. (2015, March). Connecting with the cosmos: The total audience media universe. Retrieved from the Nielsen Company Web site:



Harris Interactive (2013, April 8).Americans taking advantage of ability to watch TV on theirown schedules. Retrieved from



Notte, Jason. 2014. 10 TV Shows to Binge before the Fall Season. Available online: https://www.thestreet.com/story/12854468/1/10-tv-shows-to-binge-watch-before-the-fall-season.html  (accessed on 29 August 2014).

What is DOI?

This is the acronym for Digital Object Identifier. The DOI is a unique alphanumeric string which is assigned to an online document such as a journal article or ebook. This is a unique alphanumeric string that is used to locate an online resource material or content cited in a write-up (articles, or research works). The DOI provides a persistent link to location a material on the internet. It is a unique permanent identifier or handle used to identify objects. It is standardized by the International Organization for Standardization.

The DOI is more permanent that the URL because the article it is assigned to is not likely to change where it located, unlike the URL which the article or content is likely to be edited or altered. The DOI is recommended by various academic citation styles because it never changes. Various academic citation styles such as APA, MLA, and Harvard styles always recommend using DOIs instead of URLs to locate sources or materials cited from online sources.


Here are examples of DOIs used in mass media and communication studies;


Haridakis, P., & Hanson, G. (2009). Social interaction and co-viewing with YouTube: Blendingmass communication reception and social connection. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media,53(2), 317–335. doi:10.1080/08838150902908270


Cassin, S. E., & von Ranson, K. M. (2007). Is binge eating experienced as an addiction? Appetite,49(3), 687–690. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2007.06.012


Conway, J. C., & Rubin, A. M. (1991). Psychological predictors of television viewing motivation. Communication Research,18(4), 443–463. doi:10.1177/009365091018004001


Mikos, L. (2016). Digital media platforms and the use of TV content: Binge watching and video-on-demand in Germany. Media and Communication,4(3), 154–161. doi:10.17645/mac.v4i3.542


Pittman M and Sheehan K (2015) Sprinting a media marathon: Uses and gratifications of binge-watchingtelevision through Netflix. First Monday 20(10):

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i10.6138.


Difference between DOI and URL

The basic difference between the DOI and URL is that the DOI is more permanent than the URL. This means that an article or online resource material which has a DOI is not likely to change. It could be an article published in a journal which cannot be edited anytime in future. On the other hand, the URL is used to identify a resource material online which is likely to change in future by way of an update, addition to the article or alteration in any way. This could be newspaper articles, write-ups in blogs, or even research articles published on platforms which have options or features that make it possible for such contents to be edited in future. A DOI can be used in a similar way to a URL, but it is more permanent and reliable.

Another difference is that the URL incorporates domain names of the website where the material is retrieved from while the DOI rarely indicates the domain name. The DOI basically comprises a set of numerical data that are used to locate a resource material online. It comprises a set of numbers which could has one or more dots in-between some numbers.

One very important point to note is that the DOI is not found on every journal article. Where you don’t see the DOI you should use the URL. Just note that the DOI is a preferred reference style for academic works, whether you are writing a project, dissertation, thesis, or journal articles. Where you have DOI and URL in an article you should use DOI for academic papers but where the DOI is not given, use URL.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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