Unique Author Identifiers: ORCID, Scopus ID and Researcher ID – what’s the difference?

Fingerprint by CPOA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Fingerprint by CPOA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

As we’ve mentioned previously on this blog, there is a problem in overcoming “standards proliferation” fatigue when promoting any new research tool or ID standard. The web has enabled an unprecedented level of sharing and connectivity, especially with regards to research, but the downside of opening up the floodgates means you need better ways of filtering information and finding what’s relevant.

In the context of research, unique author identifiers are one way to solve the problem of author ambiguity. Being able to consistently and accurately identify the author of a piece of research is valuable for researchers (because it means you can quickly find other work by the same author and ensure your own work is linked to you) and for administrators and librarians (because it’s vital to be able to manage and report on the research your institution has produced).

Several unique author identifiers have been developed to address this issue in recent years, but the three main ones are: ResearcherID (developed by Thomson Reuters and used in Web of Science and related products); Scopus Author ID (developed by Elsevier and used in Scopus and related products); and ORCID (developed by ORCID Inc., which is a non-profit, community-driven organisation, based in the USA but with international membership).

At a basic level, all three tools do more or less the same thing; that is, uniquely identify an author and link this unique ID with his/her publications/outputs. However, there are important differences between them and reasons why you may need more than one.

The ownership of these IDs is an important signal of their use. ResearcherID is used to identify authors and enables users to build a publication profile and generate citation metrics from Web of Science (assuming you have access to this product, usually provided through your institution). Scopus Author ID is automatically assigned to all authors and also ensures this information is accurately reflected in the various Scopus tools such as search and analytics (e.g. citation tracking, h-index etc.).* Researchers benefit from this by clearly identifying their work, but so do the publishers: ensuring their information is up-to-date and accurate means that they raise the quality of their associated search, discovery and analysis products, which potentially leads to increased traffic to these services and, ultimately, sales.

ORCID, by contrast, is not owned by a publisher, but is a community-driven organisation which includes representatives from a range of stakeholders on its board of directors, including funders (Wellcome Trust), publishers (Thomson Reuters, Wiley-Blackwell, Nature, Elsevier) and universities (Cornell, Barcelona, MIT). While ResearcherID and Scopus ID are linked to the journal output of their respective publishers, ORCID is neutral in this respect; you can associate an ORCID with an output in any article from any publisher, and you can also attach the identifier to datasets, equipment, media stories, experiments, patents and notebooks. ORCID does not offer any “added value” services such as citation analysis linked to the acquisition of an ORCID (as is the case with ResearcherID and Scopus ID) – its mission statement is really very simple: “to solve the name ambiguity problem in research and scholarly communications by creating a central registry of unique identifiers for individual researchers and an open and transparent linking mechanism between ORCID and other current researcher ID schemes.”

If you are a researcher, then, depending on your discipline, you may need to sign up for all three. But this is not as difficult as it sounds. Both ResearcherID and Scopus Author ID have relatively painless ways of linking up with your ORCID (see ResearcherID-ORCID integration and Scopus ID-ORCID integration). This will automatically link the research linked to ResearcherID/Scopus ID to your ORCID and ensure that publication lists can be imported from one ID system into another.

If you are a researcher and you haven’t yet signed up for any of these author identification tools then the best way forward is to sign up for an ORCID. ORCID is rapidly becoming the standard, and is supported by many publishers, universities and funders.

* 07/08/14 Following recent discussion with Scopus on Twitter, I’ve clarified the wording here. All authors are assigned Scopus IDs – not just authors in Elsevier journals.


About David Young

I'm a Research Funding & Policy Manager based in Research & Business Services at Northumbria University. I support research funding bids to a range of funders, focusing on the Faculty of Engineering and Environment. I also support a number of research policy areas across the university: open access, research data management, CRIS, research strengths, and REF impact.
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