Toward the end of November 2020, Research Square celebrated its 50,000th preprint, capping off a spectacular rise for the platform and for preprints in general. Research Square also brought several industry firsts to scholarly publishing this year.
An explosive year of growth
Preprints were already on the rise for several years leading up to 2020, after CrossRef granted digital object identifiers (DOIs) for preprints in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, was the spark that ignited preprints’ explosive growth. Preprints helped communicate research as quickly and as openly as possible, contributing to the rapid spread of public health information and the development of vaccines in record time.
The preprint became the de-facto medium for communicating these preliminary COVID-19 research results, and Research Square quickly grew with this trend, becoming one of the top three preprint servers by volume for COVID-19 research in the scholarly publishing industry. Research Square currently houses 19.66% of all COVID-19 related preprints, according to the National Institutes of Health’s iSearch COVID-19 repository.
The full adoption of preprints in the clinical sciences during the pandemic proved the value of publishing research at the earliest possible stage, as it contributed to the unprecedented levels of openness and cooperation between researchers, research institutions, and publishers that rapidly moved the science forward.
As the broader scientific community saw these benefits, they began to enthusiastically adopt preprint publishing as well, using preprint servers to share large volumes of research as quickly and broadly as possible. Consequently, Research Square became one of the fastest-growing preprint platforms in 2020 across all disciplines. From January 1, 2020, through the end of September, preprint postings on Research Square swelled by 77.5%.
The world’s first preprint platform to host digital services
As part of Research Square Company’s longstanding vision to make research communication faster, fairer, and more useful, new digital services were added to the platform this year to help authors improve their manuscripts before submitting them to journals, while enabling them to share and communicate their research with audiences outside their disciplines. All of these services represent an industry first: manuscript improvement and dissemination services on one platform.
Research Square added manuscript editing and formatting to help authors ensure they are writing manuscripts with the highest possible editorial quality before submission to peer-reviewed journals. Badges, which are added to manuscripts after Research Square’s editorial team assesses them against established methods and data reporting standards, were also added to Research Square’s growing list of services in 2020.
Research promotion services from Research Square were integrated into the platform to help authors make their technical research accessible to general audiences. In 2020, Research Square produced hundreds of new videos, infographics, and written summaries across the clinical, animal, and plant sciences.
All these services were built on top of Research Square’s existing In Review service, through which authors could post preprints while submitting to participating peer-reviewed journals. In Review saw major growth in 2020 both in author and journal participation. Thanks in part to the addition of 41 Nature journals to the platform, the number of participating journals increased by 305%. Consequently, preprint postings through In Review grew by 360% from 2019 to 2020. By early December 2020, nearly 40,000 preprints - or 35% of all submissions across 477 participating journals - were posted on Research Square through In Review.
In Review allows authors to seamlessly submit their manuscripts to journals. Through it, authors can timestamp their manuscripts with DOIs, track the status of their manuscripts in real time, and view records of their manuscripts’ revisions during and after the review process.
The introduction of AI-based services in preprinting
In the second half of 2020, Research Square brought another new industry-first technology to preprinting: artificial intelligence through SaaS (software as a service).
After a successful beta test in August, Research Square integrated a new AI-based editing service, able to make high-quality English-language edits in just 20 minutes without any direct human help. This new SaaS (software as a service) product was trained by more than 500,000 papers and millions of subject-specific edits by experts from Research Square Company’s AJE (American Journal Experts) division. It automatically assesses English-language grammar, diction, clarity, consistency, phrasing, punctuation, spelling, and other language quality factors; then, it performs complex edits that can drastically improve a manuscript’s English-language quality. The AI-based service is especially useful for authors who speak English as a second language, as significant language improvements can increase their chances of publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Other AI-based services were also beta tested on the platform this year, including an automated Open Science assessment tool, which checks for purpose, data, and code availability statements, funding statements, and similar information to gauge and improve an author’s level of responsible reporting. The tool, powered by Ripeta, helps authors enhance the quality of their research and the robustness of their scientific reporting. Research Square also tested a Methods Completeness Assessment tool in conjunction with SciScore. This scientific content checker and validation tool scans the methods sections of preprints against research guidelines and rigor criteria that support the reproducibility of scientific research. It checks against criteria such as evidence of reagent identifiability, randomization, and sample size estimation.
For 2021 and beyond, expect more innovative technology-based services that empower researchers to produce and share the highest-quality research possible.