Preprints

This guide addresses article preprints, which are often found on sites such as ResearchGate or arXiv.org, explaining what a preprint is, its purpose, and how it differs from an article's version of record.

What is a preprint?

It's helpful to think of a preprint as a draft of an article. It is a version that has not yet undergone the formal peer review and editorial process needed for publication in a scholarly journal. Because many changes can take place during the peer review process (an article is very rarely accepted as originally written) it's important to note that preprints don't typically represent the version of record, or final published version.

Flowchart of the publication process, showing preprints outside of the traditional submission and peer-review workflow.

Image adapted from "Manuscript detectives--submitted, accepted or published?" by Dr Melodie Garnier. CC-BY.

What is the purpose of preprints?

According to PLOS, there are a number of reasons why researchers choose to make preprints available. These include to:

  • Disseminate time-sensitive research results quickly (think about research related to the COVID-19 pandemic).
  • "Establish priority." Often, many research teams are racing for a solution to the same problem. Science has shown that the first person/team to publish findings will typically be acknowledged. By publishing a preprint of their results, one team may "stake a claim" and effectively "beat the others."
  • Begin building citation counts for career advancement.
  • "Test the waters," receiving feedback on the preprint before submitting to a journal for peer review. Because preprints can be updated, a researcher can get feedback, modify their work, and receive additional feedback in a timely fashion before subjecting their work to the full peer review process.

Where can you find preprints?

Preprints are posted on platforms that can be general in scope, or focused on a specific discipline or disciplines.

General/Multidisciplinary

  • Academia.edu - "Our mission is to accelerate the world's research"
  • Preprints.org - "A platform dedicated to making early versions of research outputs permanently available and citable."
  • ResearchGate - "....our mission to connect the world of science and make research open to all."

Sciences

  • arXiv - Physics, mathematics, computing, statistics, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, electrical engineering and systems science, and economics
  • bioRxiv - Life sciences
  • EngrXiv - Engineering
  • ChemRxiv - Chemistry

Health Sciences

  • MedRxiv - All health sciences
  • PrePubMed - An index of preprints with links to articles on other sites

Social Sciences

  • SSRN - Preprint service for social sciences
  • SocArxiv - Open archive of the social sciences
  • RePEc - Research in economics and related sciences
  • PsyArXiv - Preprint service for psychological sciences

Use of Preprints in Class Assignments

In some disciplines it is permissible to use preprints. It's always best to check with your instructor, though. Also, it's important to note that if your assignment calls for peer-reviewed articles, preprints will not count toward this criterion. Remember, a preprint is a version of an article created prior to the peer review process.

Preprints, like versions of record, receive a DOI, or Digital Object Identifier. DOIs permanently identify an article, serve as a URL for discoverability, and in the case of preprints, allow you to track progression from preprint to final publication. If you are considering a preprint for use in your research, look for a DOI. It's recommended that you steer clear of those lacking this feature.

In terms of citing preprints, many common citation styles have published guidelines, including:

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