Preprints are preliminary versions of scientific manuscripts that researchers share by posting to preprint servers before peer-review and publication in an academic journal. Preprint servers are publicly available online archives that host preprints and their associated data. They typically employ basic screening processes for “offensive and/or non-scientific content and for material that might pose a health or biosecurity risk.1” However, these screening processes do not share the rigor of peer-review.
Preprints and preprint servers have been widely adopted and accepted in disciplines such as physics and math. Health sciences and medicine have only started to warm up to this practice in recent years. Part of the hesitation is due to the fact that research findings that have not been peer-reviewed in these fields could carry greater risks to the safety of patients and the public. In 2013, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory launched bioRxiv (pronounced “bio-archive”) which focuses on basic research in the life sciences; it launched medRxiv (pronounced “med-archive”) which focuses on clinical research in 2019 in partnership with BMJ and Yale University.
Why might researchers consider publishing their work to preprint servers? There are a few reasons, such as—
- to establish priority in scientific discoveries and breakthrough
- to increase visibility of research in an accelerated timeline
- to receive feedback from peers to improve the manuscript
- to serve as early evidence of productivity in grant writing
The peer-reviewed journal publishing process is lengthy, whereas preprints can be available online in a matter of minutes. Upon publishing, each preprint gets a permanent DOI and is indexed by Google Scholar and Altmetric. As a result, researchers in crowded fields are able to disseminate their findings quicker and avoid potential scooping. In addition, recent reviews suggest that published articles with preprints have higher Altmetric scores2 and receive more citations3. Moreover, an increasing number of funders, such as the NIH and Wellcome Trust, are allowing researchers and investigators to cite preprints in grant applications.
Before making a decision about publishing to preprint servers, it is important to check your target journal’s manuscript submission guidelines or policy regarding preprints. For example, posting of preprints will not jeopardize a manuscript’s consideration at Nature Research journals as they do not consider preprints prior publications; while JAMA network will factor preprint postings into their determination of publication.
Below are a few preprint servers to get you started if you decide to publish your work to preprint servers.
- medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences (submission guide)
- bioRxiv, the preprint server for biology (submission guide)
- The Open Science Framework (OSF) Preprint Archive Search in medicine and health sciences
- Preprints.org, the multidisciplinary preprint platform
1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. (n.d). Preprints. https://www.cshl.edu/partner-with-us/preprints/
2. Serghiou S, Ioannidis JPA. (2018). Altmetric scores, citations, and publication of studies posted as preprints. JAMA, 319(4), 402–404. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2017.21168
3. (2018). The state of OA: a large-scale analysis of the prevalence and impact of Open Access articles. PeerJ, 6:(e4375). https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4375