Changes in scholarly publishing, including an increased emphasis on open access (such as through Plan S) and growing numbers of preprint servers, have given you additional choices regarding how to publish your research. Traditionally, your primary decision was the journal in which to publish your manuscript. Now, you must also decide how and when to publish. Many researchers are choosing to post a preprint (a full draft of a research paper that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed), before they submit to a journal. Here are the top 3 reasons why you should post your manuscript as a preprint.
1. Feedback: gain the opportunity for rapid feedback (and broaden your peer network).
Journals usually send manuscripts to 2-3 researchers for peer review. Such review by experts in the field is considered a critical step in ensuring research credibility. However, posting a preprint creates the opportunity for a virtually unlimited number of researchers to provide constructive comments on your research from different perspectives. These comments can be especially helpful if you haven't yet submitted to a journal: they can help you address any trouble spots _before_ your manuscript hits an editor's (or reviewer's) desk, and they may even help you choose the right journal or meet potential collaborators.
2. Credit: gain (and retain) recognition for your work.
Preprints make it really easy to see who discovered something first, since they’re typically given Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs, or unique text strings that secure documents in the scientific record). Plus, they can be disseminated as soon as a manuscript is finished. Your preprint will be available to the public almost immediately rather than being affected by a particular journal's processing and reviewing speeds (which can vary considerably among journals).
(Worried about funder policies regarding preprints? Click here for the policies of common funding agencies. You can also check your target journal's website or this database to see specific journals’ policies on preprints.)
3. Visibility: expand your paper’s reach (and potentially your citation count).
Posting your manuscript as a preprint makes it visible to search engines, and the DOI of the preprint makes it citable (for a discussion about citing preprints, see this article). Another benefit is that your preprint can actually help drive traffic to the final published article (which you'll understandably want to point readers to once it's available). Via the DOI repository Crossref, preprint servers like bioRxiv and Research Square automatically link preprint DOIs to their corresponding journal articles. Such links can ultimately increase the citation counts and Altmetric scores of the published articles, as shown by this study published in _JAMA_ and this study posted on bioRxiv (as a preprint itself!).
All three of these benefits of preprints—feedback, credit, and visibility— can be especially important in times of crisis, such as during disease outbreaks. For example, a 2018 analysis revealed that preprints related to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks were available an average of 3 months sooner than their journal-published versions. Similarly, preprints have enabled rapid dissemination of findings regarding the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. Although non–peer-reviewed manuscripts should always be interpreted with caution, the availability and transparency of preprints can help speed up critical research when timely action is crucial.
A paper on clinical characteristics of Covid-19, first published in a preprint server on Feb 9, was published today in the NEJM. 1) I'm glad the authors got the credit they deserve for this excellent work and 2) this timeline illustrates the importance of preprint servers— Caitlin Rivers, PhD (@cmyeaton) February 29, 2020
Ultimately, whether or not to post a preprint is your personal choice. However, preprints represent a unique publication type that can provide distinct advantages when used to supplement traditional peer-reviewed publications.
Want to experience the benefits of preprints? Click here to submit a preprint to Research Square.
Date of Publication: 3-31-2020
This article was originally published on the AJE Scholar Author Resource Center.