Image from: Sarabipour, S., Debat, H. J., Emmott, E., Burgess, S. J., Schwessinger, B., & Hensel, Z. (2019). On the value of preprints: An early career researcher perspective. PLoS biology, 17(2), e3000151. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000151
In September 2021 the Australian Research Council released a statement outlining a change in their guidelines following feedback received from the community following the 2021 round of grants and eligibility issues caused by the referencing of preprints. In future rounds preprints may now be referenced in both the application and the Research outputs list. You can read the ARC communication in full at Adjustments to the ARC’s position on preprints.
Preprints are early versions or drafts of academic articles that are made available free to read by the author online prior to publication. These versions of articles have not yet been through peer review and will often undergo significant changes prior to acceptance and publication by a journal. Preprints are often published on large preprint servers which may be discipline specific or multidisciplinary.
Preprint servers often give these articles a DOI unique to the particular version of the preprint. This means the article may be cited in other research, as well as enabling the author to track the different versions of their work.
Preprints allow you to make your research visible and available quickly, meaning that others are able to locate and use your research without waiting for a potentially lengthy publication process.
Preprint servers give the research community the opportunity to read and provide feedback prior to the submission of an article to a publisher. Authors have the chance to listen to and engage with the critique of a wider audience than would be possible through the peer review process. Cross disciplinary feed back can be useful to gather insight from others who use the same research methodologies, and have experience in data analytics. Identifying any potential errors, or weaknesses prior to submission can make the publication process more efficient and avoid any potential problems with errors being overlooked prior to publication.
Having a preprint with a DOI enables you to begin to get credit for your work long before it is published. As preprints are citable researchers can begin receiving citations for their work, as well as alternative metrics. Final Articles that were previously published as a preprint are more likely to receive online mentions in social and traditional media and receive higher citation rates. For a look at this aspect of preprints you might like to read the Nature Index piece Preprints boost article citations and mentions.
Preprints may also be used in progress reports, grant applications and in curriculum vitae. This enables panels to see your most recent research activities.
It can be difficult to publish research with a negative or null result, or research that isn't groundbreaking. Many researchers used preprint servers to add to the scholarly record these results. This has several advantages to science overall, it shows your overall productivity and work and also helps to avoid the duplication of research. Many preprints are never published formally by a journal, and many researchers choose to upload a preprint if the article was rejected multiple times to gather feedback for future research and publications.
Increasingly journals do allow authors to have a preprint of an article they are submitting. However it is always a good idea to carefully review the policies of a journal to ensure it is allowable before uploading the preprint. If you are unsure you should reach out to the publisher for clarification to avoid the potential for rejection or retraction. It is also a good idea to check the policies of journals you have identified as additional possibilities in case of rejection from your first choice.
the increased viewership of preprints means that the author is more likely to receive feedback and comments on their work. This can be a daunting prospect when you are almost ready to submit your article. This feedback can obviously be valuable with the ability to correct and polish your article prior to submission lessening the possibility of rejection and the need to undergo major changes during the peer review process. There are also concerns around journal policies on preprint comments and how they may influence the acceptance of an article or how they may influence peer review. Many authors who choose to publish preprints choose to do so precisely because they can correct their work at an earlier stage, rather then having the paper rejected or that the error was missed during peer review leading to retraction.
This concern is one that is not as much in the control of an individual researcher but one for the community as a whole. The downside of preprints being more likely to receive additional information from outside academia is that not just high quality research is picked up by the public and the media. From the perspective of an author there are concerns that if their research is made available as a preprint, receives the interest of the press and then is later found to contain errors this may cause damage to their reputation. Authors should ensure their papers uploaded as preprints are well conceived and error free as possible without the benefit of undergoing the peer review process. Any promotions or mentions of a preprint should also clearly state that the preprint is not the published version and has not undergone peer review.
There are many preprint servers, some are discipline specific whilst others are multidisciplinary. Below you may find a non-exhaustive list:
If you would like to read more about preprints there are a range of articles and websites that can assist in weighing up the benefits and downsides of preprints and deciding whether you would like to upload your work in a preprint server.
"Ten simple rules to consider regarding preprint submission" from the PLOS Computational Biology Journal general guidelines and advice for researchers considering uploading a preprint.
Dr Anna Clemens has written a 3 part series on preprints to help researchers navigate their decision. The series includes:
If you are an early career researcher the article "On the value of preprints: An early career researcher perspective" offers a multidisciplinary viewpoint on how preprints may be adopted for knowledge and career development.
The article "Preprints boost article citations and mentions" looks at how early uploading of research may help increase the interactions and citations of the follow up formal publication.
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