ResearchGate is a professional networking site for research scientists that enables researchers to connect with one another professionally, and allows them to share and promote their work. In addition to facilitating communication between research scientists, this site also enable scientists to track their publication statistics and metrics and share publications by posting them to the site. ResearchGate not only allows users to post published works (which are not copyright-protected by the journal that originally published them), it also allows users to upload preprints, or author’s versions, much like a standard preprint server.
What are the advantages of publishing a preprint on ResearchGate?
Like other preprint servers, ResearchGate highlights the advantages of publishing a preprint prior to submitting your paper to a traditional journal for peer review, specifically citing early feedback, early citation of your work, and the potential to attract a wider readership. By posting your work prior to peer review, you can receive advice and comments on your paper that may help you improve your paper before submission, potentially making the peer review process go smoother and more quickly. Having your work read and possibly cited prior to peer review can help increase the visibility of the research and establish your claim to a novel finding without the delay of the traditional review process. And promoting a preprint within your ResearchGate network can bring the paper to the attention of readers who might otherwise have overlooked it; indeed, publishing a preprint could even help build anticipation for the later, peer-reviewed version of the article.
What are the disadvantages of publishing a preprint on ResearchGate?
The concerns you may have about publishing a preprint on ResearchGate are likely to be the same that you have for other preprint server platforms. A common fear shared by research scientists is that posting a preprint opens you up to the risk of being ‘scooped’ by another group, who could potentially repeat your study and then publish it in a peer-reviewed journal before you are able to do so. However, preprints are considered a formal and permanent part of the scientific record, and in almost all cases receive a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). This means that they can be formally identified and cited as authentic scientific publications, establishing your claim to the work and data prior to publication in peer-reviewed journal. Many preprint servers assign DOIs automatically, but in the case of ResearchGate it is your responsibility to request the generation of a DOI for a preprint when you upload it, so be sure to do this to protect your research once it has been posted.
Another common concern that researchers have regarding preprint publication is how to handle citations and publication records once the definitive version is published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is important to remember that a preprint is a formal publication in its own right, so even if the article is eventually published by a traditional journal, the preprint remains publicly available on the server it was uploaded to as part of the permanent scientific record. Best practice is to cite your own preprint in the definitive article submitted to (and ultimately published in) a peer-reviewed journal, for maximum clarity. You should also be sure to link to the preprint from the definitive version, and vice versa, to make it easy to find and compare each version of the paper. While some preprint servers handle this linking process automatically, ResearchGate does not, so it is your responsibility as the author to update the ResearchGate preprint page to add a link to the published version when it is available.
Is it safe to publish preprints on ResearchGate?
If you have identified your preprint with a DOI and have been transparent about publishing your research as a preprint when it is time to submit to a traditional journal, then publishing a preprint on ResearchGate is just as safe as any other preprint server. As we have already discussed above, preprints are visible and documented parts of the scientific record, and as such can and should be cited accordingly. This means that you can’t be ‘scooped’ by anyone who reads your preprint and attempts to replicate the work.
As with other preprint servers, you should check that your target journal publishes articles that have already been published as a preprint; this is typically the case, but not always. Once the definitive/final version of your paper is published, you can manually update the ResearchGate record to link to the most recent version.
However, there is a unique aspect to ResearchGate that can trip some authors up. As ResearchGate is primarily a networking site, copyright regulations can be somewhat complex for some authors to navigate when it comes to sharing the definitive version of a paper that was previously published as a preprint on the site. As we mentioned earlier, it is best practice to update your preprint to link to the definitive version of the paper once it is published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, many authors are tempted to simply upload a PDF version of the final paper to their ResearchGate account instead of providing a link to the journal website. This can cause problems with copyright, depending on which journal you published in and what their open access policy is. If the journal is fully open access and you as the author retain the copyright, then you are free to distribute it in any way you choose, including by posting it publicly to ResearchGate. However, if the journal retains the copyright to your paper, then uploading a public copy to ResearchGate would be a violation of copyright law, and you will most likely be required to take it down. This gets a little murky when you consider that you are allowed to share the final version of your paper with friends and colleagues through the ResearchGate site, in much the same way that you would be allowed to pass out hard copies of the paper within your department or at a conference, even if it is protected by journal copyright. The important point here is to distinguish between whether you are making the paper publicly available or sharing it with a select group.
ResearchGate provides considerable guidance on this topic to help authors make the right decision, and you are encouraged to read through this guidance thoroughly before updating your ResearchGate preprint with the final version of your paper.
If you are still unsure, you may wish to consult a site like www.howcanishareit.com, which can help you understand the copyright regulations surrounding a specific publication. The easiest way to do this is to search the DOI of your preprint and/or the final version of the paper to see what avenues of publication and sharing are open to you.