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Open Access Publishing

What are preprints?

A preprint is an early version of an academic article that has been made available by the author for others to read for free online before it has been peer reviewed or published by an academic journal.

What are the benifits of preprints?

Publishing an article as a preprint serves several important purposes.

  • It allows the information contained in the article to be shared with the academic community more rapidly and openly than traditional publication. The formal journal publication process is often lengthy, and it can take many months for an article to be reviewed and published by a journal.
  • Research has shown that publishing a journal article as a preprint can increase citations to the final peer reviewed article.
  • By posting a freely accessible version of an article online, the author has the opportunity to receive comments and reviews by readers that might lead to changes and improvements in the final published draft.
  • It can be used by researchers to provide evidence of productivity when applying for jobs or submitting grant proposals, and it can also generally help to establish priority of discovery and ideas.
  • Posting an article as a preprint can also particularly benefit early career researchers. by helping then to find research collaborators, and helping to improving their professional network, which cacn lead to more opportunities for these researchers.

Things to keep in mind about preprints.

  • Preprints have not been peer reviewed: While preprints are scholarly articles, they have not yet been formally peer reviewed. Some preprint servers may do a rudimentary check to ensure that submitted content is legitimate scientific/academic research, but they are not checking the reliability and accuracy of information in the article. It is important that those reading and using preprints keep this in mind.
  • A few journals might not accept articles published as preprints: While an increasing number of publishers and journals welcome the submissions of articles that have been released as a preprint, some journals might not accept them. It is important to check the policies of any journal you may wish to submit to before releasing a preprint. The SHERPA/RoMIO databases can be used to learn if publishers and journal support preprinting, and the Transpose database provides even more detail about journal policies towards preprint. 

Selected preprint servers

Below are a few selected preprint servers of relevance to our community. A comprehensive list of preprint servers (and one that compares server policies) can be found on the ASAPbio website

Discipline Specific

  • arXiv: physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, statistics, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics
  • bioRxiv: biology and life sciences (informative article about bioRxiv, including statistics and a history of the preprint server)
  • ChemRxiv: chemistry
  • EarthArXiv: earth sciences
  • medRxiv: health sciences/clinical research
  • NuitriXiv: nutritional sciences
  • PsyArXiv: psychological sciences
  • SocArXiv: social sciences
  • SportRXiv: sport, exercise, performance, and health research

  • Google Scholar: This search engine also indexes preprints from many popular servers, including some of the ones mentioned above and below.
  • OSF Preprints: Supported by the Center for Open Science, OSF is a free and open platform that supports a variety of discipline specific preprint servers (including several discipline specific ones mentioned above). The OSF search aggregator allows users to search through its own preprint collections and those of other organizations.
  • Multidisciplinary preprint server.
  • PrePubMed: An independent effort to index preprints from a variety of sources (including ones mentioned above) that fit the profile of articles which would appear on PubMed once published.

Preprints and the NIH

The National Institutes of Health specifically supports the use and citation of preprints as "interim research projects to "speed the dissemination and enhance the rigor" of an author's work. NIH notice NOT-OD-17-050 discusses the benefits of preprints and provides guidance for authors on selecting a reliable preprint server to post their articles to. This NIH blog post also offers additional explanation related to this notice. In brief:

  • Authors are encouraged by the NIH to include preprints in their "My Bibliography."
  • Authors can then associate grant awards with those preprints by logging on through ERA Commons.
  • Authors are asked by the NIH to choose a Creative Commons license to release their pre print under, so that it is easily identified as an openly accessible article. Learn more about different CC licenses from ASAPBio.

To learn about other funder's policies towards preprints, you can consult

Other common questions about preprints

1. Will the publication of preprints lead to an increase in incorrect information being reported in the media?

"These concerns are valid, but there is good reason to believe that they can be mitigated and managed...[with]...attention and inspection from our scientific community....preprints can be screened before posting to block attempts to propagate misinformation. Furthermore, some preprint servers display disclaimers on the top of each article to make clear that preprints are not validated through peer-review." (ASAPBio)

2. Can a preprint provide a record of priority for idea development or discovery?

Preprint servers should include an "timestamp indicating when the article appeared, which is usually within 24 hours of submission. This date, along with the preprint itself, is made open access... and thus, anyone can determine the order of priority relative to other published work or, indeed, other preprints. While journals provide an important service of validation through peer review, establishment of priority can be significantly delayed because the work is not public during the process of peer review in most journals." (Ten Simple Rules)

3. Will publishing work as a preprint mean that an idea is more likely to get scooped?

"As jobs and grants become very competitive, there is increasing worry...about scooping, ie that their ideas/results will be published by others and that they will not receive proper attribution....Our argument is that this is unlikely, and indeed there is likely be to greater protection and overall fairness in establishing credit for work by submitting both to a preprint server (for fair and timely disclosure) and to a journal (for validation by peer review)." (ASAPBio)

4. Is an article which has been posted as a preprint automatically of a lower quality than one published in a journal?

"Certainly, the peer review process can add significant value to the work, pointing out errors or areas for improvement. Nevertheless, authors must stand behind their submitted preprint, because it is a public disclosure (and hence a citable entity), albeit a non-peer-reviewed one. Even without peer review, their scientific colleagues will be reading and judging the work, and the authors’ reputations are at stake." (Ten Simple Rules).

5. Do I have to inform journal when I submit that I have posted the article as a preprint.

You should let a journal know if you have posted a preprint for a couple of reasons. First, this will help the journal and preprint repositories connect your preprint to the final published article. Also, since plagiarism detection software will pick up preprints as a match, the journal will more easily be able to review those reports if they know you have published a preprint.