What are Preprints, and How Do They Benefit Authors?
Preprints are research papers shared before peer review. Here we discuss the benefits to authors including rapid credit, visibility & feedback.
Updated on March 29, 2018
Most researchers don't share their work until after it's been published in a journal. Due to lengthy publication times, this can result in delays of months, sometimes years. Authors are understandably frustrated by the amount of time it takes to share their research & reap the benefits of a published, citable research article.
But what if you could put post your manuscript online while it's going through peer review so that your peers and colleagues can see what you're working on? That's the idea behind preprints, and more and more researchers are using them for exactly this purpose.
Definition of a preprint
A preprint is a full draft research paper that is shared publicly before it has been peer reviewed. Most preprints are given a digital object identifier (DOI) so they can be cited in other research papers.
A preprint is a full draft of a research paper that is shared publicly before it has been peer reviewed.
Benefits of preprints
Preprints achieve many of the goals of journal publishing, but within a much shorter time frame. The biggest benefits fall into 3 areas: credit, feedback, and visibility.
When you post a preprint with your research results, you can firmly stake a claim to the work you've done. If there is any subsequent discussion of who found a particular result first, you can point to the preprint as a public, conclusive record of your data. Most preprints are assigned a digital object identifier (DOI), which allows your work to become a permanent part of the scholarly record - one that can be referenced in any dispute over who discovered something first.
For these reasons, the US National Institutes of Health and Wellcome Trust, among other funders, allow researchers to cite preprints in their grant applications.
For a complete list of funder policies see here.
In the traditional system, a submitted manuscript receives feedback from 2 or 3 peer reviewers before publication. With a preprint, other researchers can discover your work sooner, potentially pointing out critical flaws or errors, suggest new studies or data that strengthen your argument or even recommend a collaboration that could lead to publication in a more prestigious journal. The feedback can be provided publicly through commenting, or privately through email. Here is one scientist's story about the benefit of sharing his work as a preprint:
Last year I posted a preprint. Doing this set off a chain of events that convinced me I should post a preprint for ALL my manuscripts.Here's my story (1/17)— Dan Quintana (@dsquintana) February 10, 2018
Here's another author's journey from skepticism to loving preprints. By posting a preprint, this author was able to share their research 10 months earlier & it was viewed over 1,500 times in the first 2 months.
“To all researchers out there, I encourage you to stop worrying and love the preprint. Submit your manuscripts, but also read preprints and make comments.”
Visibility (and citations)
Preprints are not the final form of a research paper for most authors. Thankfully, preprints and infrastructure providers like Crossref link to the final published article whenever possible, meaning that your preprint can serve to bring new readers to your published paper. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association saw notable increases in citations and Altmetric scores when authors had posted their work first as a preprint.
Posting a preprint led to a significant increase in Altmetric attention scores and citations for the final published paper.
The citation effect is small, and more studies will be needed to confirm this finding, but the evidence for more attention in news and social media is strong (nearly a 3-fold increase in Altmetric attention scores). The more places you can be discovered by your peers and the public, the more attention your research is likely to get.
Preprints are a small but rapidly growing piece of scholarly communication. They present several strong advantages to improve the way research is shared - including credit for your work, early feedback & increased visibility - and we hope you will consider giving them a try.
A note to readers: AJE is a division of Research Square Company. Our colleagues built and operate the Research Square preprint platform. For more author resources on preprints we encourage you to browse the content on the Research Square Blog.
This article was updated by our team February 2020.