The Role of Preprints in Academic Publishing

By Sandra Hopps and Allison Leung, SAGE Publishing

As the landscape of scholarly communications is always changing, SAGE is committed to being strategically innovative. One such approach is through preprints. This post looks at some of the best practices and policies surrounding preprints, as well as the benefits for authors and common misperceptions within the industry.

What are preprints?

In academic publishing, a preprint is a version of a scholarly piece of research that precedes review and publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Preprints are posted to an open-access online platform and are typically available for free before and after the peer-reviewed version of the paper is published.

Although preprint servers such as arXiv.org have been around in the physical sciences for decades, preprints have become increasingly popular in recent years across many other scholarly disciplines. Researchers appreciate the value of rapid dissemination of knowledge that preprints provide in an increasingly digital landscape. Some of the newer subject-based servers include ChemRxiv and SocArxiv, as well as a trend of additional broad-based preprint servers such as PrePrints, supported by the OA publisher MDPI, and SAGE’s own Advance: a SAGE preprint community which serves the humanities and social sciences.

What needs to be considered before posting on a preprint server?

It is important for journals to establish best practices and policies around preprints. While most journals allow the submission of papers that have previously been posted as a preprint, some do not. Therefore, it is very important that authors check the submission guidelines of the journal where they ultimately plan to submit their paper in order to ensure the journal doesn’t have a policy against preprints.

Another important aspect to consider is whether the final destination of the author’s paper has an infrastructure in place to collect the DOI of the preprint. By collecting preprint DOIs, journals will be able to facilitate a linkage between a preprint and the final, published version of that paper. This optimizes the discovery process of a paper from inception to publication, ensuring that readers have access to the most up-to-date version of the paper.

A common misperception around preprints is that they are of low quality. However, preprints are typically moderated to protect against major harm and often allow commenting so that an author’s peers can provide feedback to further improve the work. It has also been noted that a high percentage of preprints (60% of bioRxiv preprints) eventually get published as a peer-reviewed paper.

What are the benefits of posting to a preprint server?

From an author’s perspective, there are several reasons why they may want to consider first publishing their research as a preprint. The most commons benefits include:

  • Ensuring credit for their work—if their accepted preprint receives a digital object identifier (DOI), it will allow them to ensure credit for their research by making it available within the scholarly community in a clearly identifiable way, which is especially important for time-sensitive projects.
  • Obtaining feedback on their research—many preprint servers include a moderated commenting feature that allows authors to seek and receive constructive feedback from their peers. Authors will also be able to share their preprint via social media and email.
  • Sharing their research quickly—once moderated and accepted, preprints are usually available online quickly (within just a few days in most cases), allowing authors to start communicating about their work and ideas quickly and boosting online discoverability—also particularly important for time-sensitive projects.
  • A home for content that might not otherwise be published in a journal—for example, if the author’s work contained a null result set or was a replication of a study that didn’t have any novel findings. It can be difficult for authors to find places to publish this kind of work, but utilizing the route of posting to a preprint server allows them the opportunity to share their work with their research community.

On a final note, another benefit of preprints to be considered is the possibility of increased visibility and citations. A recent study in JAMA found an increase in both Altmetric scores and citations of published papers that began their lives as preprints. Although most agree that more studies like this one need to be conducted, it does support the idea that the more places an author’s research can be discovered, the more new readers the research will have.

 

Sandra Hopps is an Executive Marketing Manager at SAGE and has nearly twenty years of marketing experience, including over fifteen within SAGE’s Journals Marketing team. While at SAGE she has been the primary technical marketing representative for the SAGE Journals platform and works closely with in-house publishing technology teams, as well as directly with our platform vendor Atypon. Previously she has worked with many of SAGE’s prestigious society partners and partnered with SAGE’s non-academic sales team for several years.

Allison Leung is an Editor at SAGE working in Humanities and Social Science journals. She has been working in academic publishing for almost 10 years, and has experience in both Production and Editorial. She currently manages a portfolio of journals in educational research, special education, marketing, and travel research as well as helping to manage Advance: a SAGE preprint community.

 

     
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