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Understanding Preprints

Patrycja29 April 2020

A preprint is a draft version of a research paper that’s posted on a public server, often at the same time as it’s sent for peer review. By definition a preprint is not peer-reviewed, but some open access journals, including UCL’s own megajournal, UCL Open: Environment, UCL Child Health Open Research and Wellcome Open Research publish preprints as part of an open peer-review process. You can post your manuscript as a preprint instantly, allowing you to communicate new research and share results quickly without having to wait for the peer-review process to be completed.

Preprints can be critical in public health emergencies like the COVID-19 and Ebola pandemics. That’s why the Wellcome Trust’s new open access policy requires preprints to be published where there’s a “significant public health benefit”.

UCL encourages authors to use disciplinary preprint servers. Then, once your manuscript has been accepted for publication in a journal, upload it to RPS: that’ll mean that it’s made available in UCL Discovery, UCL’s open access repository, and can be submitted to the REF.

Have a look at this short video by ASAPbio (Accelerating Science and Publication in biology), explaining the origins and history of preprints, and how they work:

Benefits

Uploading your work to a preprint server allows you to make it available and get your results out there as quickly as possible, accelerating the communication process. It helps you get evaluation and feedback, and establish new collaborations. Preprints can help you build your portfolio and showcase your work: even if the paper isn’t subsequently accepted, the research has still been shared. Many funders, including the Wellcome Trust, now encourage researchers to cite preprints in grant applications and reports, so their effort isn’t wasted. Danny Kingsley, former Head of the Office of Scholarly Communications at Cambridge has written a brilliant overview of how preprints are being used in the COVID-19 world, and what you should watch out for.

It’s pretty rare now for a journal to refuse to accept a submission that’s been published as a preprint, but you can check, either with the journal themselves or using Sherpa Romeo, which is a service that collates and outlines the policies of each journal. The Sherpa services are run by Jisc, and are frequently updated with the latest policies.

Some journals have embraced preprints as it makes it easier to build on early feedback and avoid resubmissions. Others have gone further and offer open peer-review, which is a great way to benefit from speedy publication as well as peer-review. If you can make your data open too, so your research is fully reproducible, that’s even better!

There are a wide range of preprint repositories out there including:

The Centre for Open Science hosts an aggregated collection of preprints from a range of verified services. If you are interested in using preprints for your work, have a look here first.