This guide to preprints was originally prepared by Larissa Gordon, Scholarly Communications Librarian, Scott Memorial Library, Thomas Jefferson University, and reused with permission of the author.
A preprint is an early version of an academic article that has been made available by the author for others to read for free online before it has been peer reviewed or published by an academic journal. Preprints are open access and typically added to subject-specific repositories, e.g. Arxiv.org, designed specifically for preprints.
Publishing an article as a preprint serves several important purposes.
Below are a few selected preprint servers of relevance to our community. A comprehensive list of preprint servers (and one that compares server policies) can be found on the ASAPbio website.
The National Institutes of Health specifically supports the use and citation of preprints as "interim research projects to "speed the dissemination and enhance the rigor" of an author's work. NIH notice NOT-OD-17-050 discusses the benefits of preprints and provides guidance for authors on selecting a reliable preprint server to post their articles to. This NIH blog post also offers additional explanation related to this notice. In brief:
To learn about other funder's policies towards preprints, you can consult https://asapbio.org/funder-policies
1. Will the publication of preprints lead to an increase in incorrect information being reported in the media?
"These concerns are valid, but there is good reason to believe that they can be mitigated and managed...[with]...attention and inspection from our scientific community....preprints can be screened before posting to block attempts to propagate misinformation. Furthermore, some preprint servers display disclaimers on the top of each article to make clear that preprints are not validated through peer-review." (ASAPBio)
2. Can a preprint provide a record of priority for idea development or discovery?
Preprint servers should include an "timestamp indicating when the article appeared, which is usually within 24 hours of submission. This date, along with the preprint itself, is made open access... and thus, anyone can determine the order of priority relative to other published work or, indeed, other preprints. While journals provide an important service of validation through peer review, establishment of priority can be significantly delayed because the work is not public during the process of peer review in most journals." (Ten Simple Rules)
3. Will publishing work as a preprint mean that an idea is more likely to get scooped?
"As jobs and grants become very competitive, there is increasing worry...about scooping, ie that their ideas/results will be published by others and that they will not receive proper attribution....Our argument is that this is unlikely, and indeed there is likely be to greater protection and overall fairness in establishing credit for work by submitting both to a preprint server (for fair and timely disclosure) and to a journal (for validation by peer review)." (ASAPBio)
4. Is an article which has been posted as a preprint automatically of a lower quality than one published in a journal?
"Certainly, the peer review process can add significant value to the work, pointing out errors or areas for improvement. Nevertheless, authors must stand behind their submitted preprint, because it is a public disclosure (and hence a citable entity), albeit a non-peer-reviewed one. Even without peer review, their scientific colleagues will be reading and judging the work, and the authors’ reputations are at stake." (Ten Simple Rules).
5. Do I have to inform journal when I submit that I have posted the article as a preprint.
You should let a journal know if you have posted a preprint for a couple of reasons. First, this will help the journal and preprint repositories connect your preprint to the final published article. Also, since plagiarism detection software will pick up preprints as a match, the journal will more easily be able to review those reports if they know you have published a preprint.