Taking a project from inception to completion is a daunting process. When the goal of your research study is peer-reviewed publication, the process from submission to publication can take quite a while. In recent years, there has been a shift in the research community towards quicker distribution of research work. The most notable change is the increasing use of immediate publication—or “Preprints”—of scientific results online. The practice has yet to become mainstream, but it has been the topic of greater discussion as the review process for scientific publications continues to evolve.
What are Pre-print Publishing Options?
“Preprint options” refers to when researchers share their work before it has gone through the peer-review process for publication to academic journals. They have been previously used in mathematics and physics but have become more prevalent in the biomedical field. These free online archives house and distribute complete but unpublished manuscripts, including research articles, systematic reviews, meta-analyses, clinical research design protocols, and data articles.
In the preprint server, each article is assigned a permanent digital object identifier (DOI) that can be cited. Works can be updated as research progresses; the preprint server will typically record each version on the server to track changes. When the work is published in an academic journal, the preprint is typically linked to the published work.
Why Use Pre-print Options?
The peer-review process is the gold standard to ensuring that published research is of the highest quality. However, the process is lengthy, often requiring multiple rounds of applications, revision, and resubmissions. Most preprint servers allow authors to publish their work after a brief screening process to eliminate blatantly offensive, nonscientific, or plagiarized content. The quick turnaround allows authors to share their research in a timely manner, which has several benefits. First, this provides early evidence of productivity, which can be key when applying for grants. Second, there has been evidence that publishing to preprint servers garners your work more attention and citations.1 This allows your research to reach audiences that were previously untapped. Finally, distribution in a preprint server allows community members to view and comment on these works, promoting a collaborative environment. On multidisciplinary servers, this also allows for commentary from other fields of research.
Before you Preprint
It is important to check journals for their individual guidelines on preprints. Journals typically do not consider preprints as “publications,” but some journals will factor preprint publication into their decision to accept manuscripts.
When using preprint resources, it is important to remember that preprint articles have not been peer-reviewed, and thus could contain errors that have not yet been identified by rigorous review. As such, pre-prints should not be taken as fact, but rather as preliminary findings.
There are several preprint servers available for use. BioRxiv (pronounced bio-archive) was launched by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in 2013 and is focused on basic science. MedRxiv (med-archive) was launched by the same lab in conjunction with BMJ and Yale University in 2019, with a focus on clinical research. Preprints.org is a multidisciplinary server launched by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) in 2020. Finally, the Preprint Archive Search is a multidisciplinary preprint server maintained by the Open Science Framework (OSF) that accepts submissions in the Medicine and Health Sciences.
Overall, preprint servers are becoming increasingly prevalent as a tool for researchers. Some benefits include:
- Quick publication time.
- Increased visibility.
- Community feedback, with potential for multidisciplinary input.
- Ability to cite as evidence of project productivity.
Be sure to check your target journal’s guidelines prior to submitting to a preprint server, but preprint servers may be an advantageous resource in an academic career.
- Serghiou S, Ioannidis JPA. Altmetric Scores, Citations, and Publication of Studies Posted as Preprints. 2018;319(4):402–404. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.21168
- Thomas Annesley, Mitchell Scott, Hilda Bastian, Vivian Fonseca, John P A Ioannidis, Michael A Keller, Jessica Polka, Biomedical Journals and Preprint Services: Friends or Foes?, Clinical Chemistry, Volume 63, Issue 2, 1 February 2017, Pages 453–458, https://doi.org/10.1373/clinchem.2016.268227
- What is a preprint? is it the Right Publishing Choice for you? Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library. (2021, January 31). https://library.cumc.columbia.edu/kb/what_is_preprint