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Introduction to Preprints

Introduction to Preprints

Preprint defined

A preprint is a research article draft completed prior to publication that is then publicly shared by the author(s) prior to, or after, formal journal-controlled peer review, but before publication. Preprints are documents that are often not typeset or built into online content.

How authors can benefit from preprints

One big advantage of putting out your research work in preprint form is that you, the author(s), are also able to choose to assign these documents a digital object identifier (DOI) number. Assignment of a DOI even at an early stage means that your work, results, figures and data can be cited by others without waiting for the full published article to appear. Preprints have proved popular with academic authors because they enable content sharing before formal peer-reviewed publication, a process that can often be very slow.

Preprint server explained

Preprint servers are online storage repositories for preprints where authors can deposit manuscripts of their paper prior to peer-review and eventual publication. A number of preprint servers have been created and developed to host this kind of content, sometimes controlled by publishers, scholarly societies, or other – often subject-specific – organisations. 

Preprint servers:

  • Provide subject-area specific mechanisms for communities of researchers to share their work before articles are formally sent into the academic journal system.
  • Enable researchers to quickly and effectively establish the priority of a particular idea, hypothesis, experiment or calculation.
  • Often mean that peer review feedback can be solicited in real time, much faster than via formal journal-controlled peer review.

Currently operational preprint servers

AgriXiv is a server for papers in the field of agriculture.

arXiv is a server for papers in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, finance and statistics.

Authorea is a server for papers in any field.

Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences Social is a server for papers across the sciences. 

bioRxiv is a server for papers in biology. 

The CERN document server is a server for papers in particle physics.

ChemArxiv is a server for papers in chemistry.

ChinaXiv is a server hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences as a repository for papers across all subject areas.

Cogprints is a server for papers in psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, philosophy and biology.

The CORE repository is a server for language articles.

The Cryptology ePrint Archive is a server for papers dealing with cryptology.

EarthArXiv is a preprint server for papers in Earth sciences.

E-lis is a server for articles dealing with library and information science.

The Electronic Colloquium on Computational Complexity is an archive for articles in computer science. 

engrxiv is a server for engineering articles.

INA-Rxiv is a server hosting articles across all subject areas.

LawArxiv is a server for articles dealing with law and associated subjects.

The LIA Scholarship Archive hosts articles that deal with librarian and information science. 

The LingBuzz archive hosts papers in linguistics.

MindRxiv is an archive for mind and contemplative practices articles.

NutriXiv hosts articles that encompass the nutritional sciences.

PaleorXiv is a repository for articles in paleontology.

Preprints.org is a repository for articles across all subject areas.

PsyArXiv hosts articles in psychology.

RePEc is a server for economics. 

SocArxiv hosts articles in social sciences.

SportRxiv is a server for work in sport science. 

The SSRN database is a multidisciplinary repository.

Therapoid is a server for articles that deal with therapeutics.

The Zenodo server hosts article preprints from all areas.

Factors that led to the development and rise of preprint servers

Preprint servers or repositories are now widespread online but grew initially as a function of our ever-increasing use of online resources for research generally and as a response to the sometimes exceedingly slow pace of formal academic peer review. Researchers want to be able to share their data, results and ideas with their peers and colleagues as quickly as possible and not have to wait for three months or more for their article to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. The average time from submission, through peer review, to online publication is 90 days. This traditional process can be very slow and is therefore perhaps not the best way for authors to quickly share their work. Some of the fastest open access (OA) journals still take time to solicit and process peer review comments on papers, wait for authors to make changes and then type-set and produce the finished article.

Do preprints allow you to share your academic research faster?

A faster way to get work ‘out there’ is to simply upload a finished manuscript (or even an earlier stage part of a manuscript, such as an abstract) to a preprint server. The work is then assigned a DOI and released publicly under a Creative Commons (CC) Attribution 4.0 International License. These two tie content ownership of a work back to authors and mean that others can get involved - by making comments online or even re-using the work in their own articles and research, fully aware that it has actually not been formally peer-reviewed.

What about your intellectual property (IP) if you use a preprint server?

All of this sounds good, but one worry academics have it protecting their IP:

Isn’t it a bad idea to ‘publish’ my work on a preprint server before it’s been formally peer-reviewed and accepted in a journal?

Somebody else might steal my ideas.

This is why preprints servers assign DOI numbers and CC licenses. Your work is protected online - it can be re-used, but must be attributed and cited. These assigned numbers can simply be picked up by academic journals if they want to take the article further and formally publish it.

Preprints as part of open research (OR)

It should come as no surprise then that preprint servers are an important component of OR, the umbrella term that is used to refer to all ways in which research is made available to the community without charge and under the control of authors. Increasing numbers of journals are taking advantage of these servers, even creating their own preprint servers tied to publications, to speed up the whole academic publishing workflow, including – potentially – the peer review process.

Can preprints speed up peer review?

What about a situation where a manuscript version is uploaded onto a preprint server, two or three established academics working in the same field make useful and insightful comments, and the authors are then able to revise their working document.

Is this really any different to traditional journal peer review?

Many colleagues, especially in the OR community, would argue no: Indeed, a number of online only fully OA journals now operate according to this model, and an increasing number of ‘traditional’ publishers are picking up articles from these sites. Four publishers - Elsevier, Nature, The Public Library of Science (PLoS) and Oxford University Press - now publish around 47% of bioRxiv preprints.


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