Preprint platforms often receive preprint withdrawal or removal requests from authors. However, preserving the preprint record whenever possible is the goal of preprint platforms. This benefits authors and the research community as a whole by increasing the visibility of research. While authors may believe preprint withdrawal or removal is their best option, other options would likely be more beneficial for the author and their work. The benefits of the most common options are discussed below.
First, let’s review what a preprint is. Preprints are officially designated as a publicly posted version of an author’s research manuscript prior to formal peer review. As they represent a work in progress, they should not be considered conclusive, used to inform clinical practice, or referenced by the media as validated information.
Preprints are assigned a DOI, digital object identifier, when they are posted. A DOI is a persistent identifier for a piece of online content that is permanently registered with accompanying metadata, such as a title, author list, and abstract, to a registration agent such as CrossRef. DOIs do not attribute any publication or peer review status to preprints. A DOI allows the preprint to be cited, used in grant applications, and included as part of institutional review processes. It also demonstrates priority of discovery, which prevents scooping. Most preprints are also widely indexed on sites such as Google Scholar or Europe PMC, causing them to have a digital presence beyond the platform on which they are posted (and therefore out of the control of the platform). Therefore, it is widely thought that preprints should remain posted in order to support the legitimacy of the author’s work in the scholarly records.
Despite the fact that preprints are meant to be permanent documentations, there are rare times when a drastic measure, such as “withdrawal” or “removal”, is necessary. Below, I describe these drastic measures and discuss how preprint platforms alter preprints in these situations.
What is preprint withdrawal?
“Preprint withdrawal” is the preferred procedure of most preprint platforms. Withdrawing a preprint entails the posting of a notification informing readers of the concerns or issues that have led the authors or the preprint platform itself to withdraw the preprint. This notification is typically posted as a new version of the preprint. The original preprint still remains posted on the platform and accessible to readers so that there is a transparent record of events, which protects innocent parties. Circumstances where a withdrawal is appropriate would be when plagiarism has been detected, manuscript authorship disagreements have arisen, or a revision cannot correct issues within the content.
What is preprint removal?
“Preprint removal” is a more serious procedure and is rarely performed. Removals are typically reserved for exceptional cases when there are significant ethical or legal concerns that can not be corrected by a new preprint version or a withdrawal notification.
Removal of a preprint entails deleting the original preprint contents from the preprint server and replacing it with a notification informing readers of the concerns or issues found in the preprint.
However, due to the aforementioned indexing services, the removal of a preprint does not guarantee all online traces of the manuscript would not exist. Preprint removal is appropriate when:
- The authors do not own the copyright to the work,
- A legal patent is pending
- The contents of the preprint could cause harm to a reader or the public
Policies on withdrawals and removals vary between preprint platforms. Each platform has their own acceptance criteria and procedures on handling these requests. Most policies can be found on ASAPBio.
Common reasons for requesting a preprint withdrawal
Here are three of the most common author reasons for requesting a withdrawal, with alternative options that can be used rather than withdrawing or removing a preprint.
1. "I need to make corrections or changes to my preprint."
Preprints can still be edited after they are published. Preprints are designed to show the evolution of an author's work and document any ongoing work or improvements to the research. An author can add results based on new experiments, make corrections to results, or make updates based on the peer review process.
When a preprint needs to be corrected or revised, typically a new version of a preprint can be posted to reflect the changes that have been made. Versioning allows the DOI to remain intact. It also allows readers to see the changes to the research. Since preprints are meant to be persistent, it benefits authors to update the preprint with a new version after revisions to the manuscript to ensure that the most accurate data is cited by others. This also allows authors to claim ownership of any additional experiments or results in the updated work.
Most preprint platforms allow authors to submit new versions of their preprint at any time. The original version will remain posted, but readers will be directed to the most recent version by default.
Alternative option: Submit a new version of the preprint instead of withdrawing it.
2. "I’m submitting my manuscript to a journal for publication."
You can still submit your manuscript to a journal and have your preprint posted at the same time! There are many benefits to posting a preprint prior to journal submission. The author can make improvements to their manuscript based on community feedback. Chances of acceptance increases when the manuscript is submitted to a journal. The author can also establish ownership of their work by having a documented posted date.
Alternative option: Most major publishers have policies that allow for the presence of a preprint prior to submission to their journals. Some publishers have their own preprint servers and encourage authors to post preprints. Therefore, there is no need for a preprint to be withdrawn or removed.
Lists of journals that have research published as preprints can be found at:
Authors can also typically find the journal's specific policies in either the journal’s author guidelines or editorial policies.
Disclose your preprint to the journal
Authors should inform a journal that they have a preprint. Some journals require authors to provide the preprint information at the time of submission. Information on the existence of a preprint and the related DOI link can be placed in the journal submission cover letter. An editorial office of a journal that accepts preprints may reject a submission if the author does not inform them of the preprint.
Despite most journals having policies that are accepting of preprints, a journal editor might still reject a submission due to the presence of a preprint. This rare occurrence is typically an oversight. In such cases, the author should remind the journal editor that the authors provided the DOI and preprint information, which the journal policy indicates they accept.
3. "My manuscript has been published."
Congratulations! Preprints are designed to document the work done prior to journal publication and then link to the final version of record at the journal in order to tell the whole story. Most journals request that a link to the published manuscript be added to the preprint version. So instead of trying to remove your preprint, use this to your advantage.
Once a manuscript has been formally published by a journal, the preprint platform can add a link to the published version’s DOI, which will inform readers that it has been published and direct them to the published version. Preprint platforms cannot update the preprint with the published version because the journal retains the copyright to the final version of the manuscript. Additionally, linking to the published manuscript increases its visibility and citation rate.
Alternative option: Take advantage of the exposure from having a preprinted version of your published manuscript. There is no need to remove your preprint after publication.
Authors should consider the benefits of having their preprint remain posted before requesting a preprint withdrawal or removal. In most cases, alternative options benefit not only the author, but also the research community. Preprints increase the speed of research communication and encourage collaboration with the community.
Do you have questions about withdrawing or removing a preprint? Contact the preprint platform’s customer support team. They should be able to help authors determine if a withdrawal or removal is necessary or if an alternative option would be more beneficial to the author.