A pre-print is an early version of a scholarly article traditionally published online ahead of submission to a journal:
- The pre-print may not have been peer-reviewed, however there are some examples of peer-review being carried out on pre-prints (see below).
- Updated versions of the pre-print can include changes made by the author and which may have resulted from open or closed commenting.
- The pre-print can be the same as the version of the work submitted to a journal. A pre-print may or may not end up being submitted to a journal for publication.
A pre-print server is an online service that allows authors to upload, describe and disseminate preprints. Most disseminate works as freely available open access (OA) items with no barriers to access. The servers commonly do not charge fees to either authors or readers for using their service. They may be supported by an institution and/or the user community. One or two are owned and operated by commercial companies. You can find a list of pre-print servers at the bottom of this page.
Benefits of publishing a pre-print
Dissemination of work via a pre-print server offers the following benefits to authors and readers:
- Lodging a copy of the pre-print in a publicly available pre-print service establishes the priority of new ideas by ensuring publicly time stamped certification and registration of your work. This can help avoid problems of ‘scooping’ and identifying instances of plagiarism.
- Pre-prints on some servers are open to comments and feedback which can assist the author in improving their manuscript and enhance collaboration.
- Ensures rapid dissemination and timely sharing of research findings, and addresses the problem of delays between journal submission and publication.
- Works are made freely available OA and can be accessed by those who cannot afford subscriptions or outside academia (eg businesses, charities, policy makers and the general public).
- High visibility of OA items which can help increase readership and citation. Some servers provide numbers of hits and downloads per item.
- There is no cost to the author or the reader.
- It is possible to track the changes to a discussion because the server retains previous versions.
- Authors usually retain the copyright of their work on pre-print servers.
- Pre-print servers usually assign a unique identifier to each work enabling the work to be easily cited. Some have adopted DOIs.
Benefits in specific research fields or Journals
- Some funding bodies advocate or require use of pre-print servers. See for example Wellcome Trust
- It is becoming increasingly common in some disciplines for a pre-print service to be the ‘go to’ location to find out about new work in a specified field of study.
- Some pre-print servers automatically add a link from the pre-print to the published version after publication (dependent on title matching)
- Some pre-print servers offer direct submission from the pre-print server to some publishers’ article submission systems (for example PLoS journals)
What should I consider before disseminating pre-prints?
Most journals will accept manuscripts that have previously been disseminated on (usually not-for-profit) pre-print servers. However, some journals consider pre-prints as prior publication. You can check journal details using Sherpa Romeo. Bear in mind, journal policies are generally changing on this point. Balance up the benefits above with this restriction and whether or not to select a different journal.
Some authors are concerned that early versions of the work will be read and cited above and in addition to the final version, and that this may be confusing and inaccurate. This can be balanced against the benefits described above.
Some journals require submitted manuscripts to be anonymised for double blind peer review. If a pre-print version of the work is available, reviewers are able to discover the identity of the author(s). This can be balanced against the benefits of open commenting. The journal’s policy on deposit of pre-prints can be contradicted by its use of double-blind peer review.
Some disciplines such as some medical sciences are sensitive to findings being released prior to peer-review and the potential impact on those who may not be able to discern between reviewed and non-reviewed material, particularly non-specialist readers or the press.
In the rare instance where an article has to be retracted, the pre-print should probably also be indicated as retracted.
Peer review and pre-print servers
Although pre-print servers commonly hold articles that have not been peer-reviewed, this is changing. There is no need for these recommended articles to be submitted for publication in classic journals – although they can be, according to the authors’ preferences.
- PCI (Peer Community In) an initiative where pre-prints are recommended following peer-review of the pre-print. Recommended articles can be used by researchers and cited in the literature.
- Some pre-print servers such as PeerJ Preprints enable comments, feedback and discussion which aids the scholarly discourse, can provide additional information for the authors to improve their paper, and can enhance scholarly collaboration.
- Pre-Lights. An initiative by Company of Biologists, to highlight selected preprints, with a digest and seal of approval.
Basic ‘How to’
- Check that your chosen journal permits prior dissemination of pre-prints
- Locate a pre-print server ideal for your research field (see below for a list)
- Register or create an account on your chosen pre-print server.
- This may include adding your ORCID
- Check/Grant the server a licence to distribute your work and agree to terms of submission.
- As you will probably retain the copyright of your work. You can probably assign a licence of your choosing to your work (e.g. Creative Commons licence).
- Include as much descriptive information (metadata) about your paper as possible to help with discovery of your pre-print.
- Upload a copy of your paper.
- You may be able to upload accompanying data or other supplementary materials.
Pre-prints and the REF
REF requires deposit of the author accepted manuscript (AAM) that has been peer reviewed and a later version than a pre-print. Unfortunately pre-print servers do not currently incorporate the correct metadata for the University to be able to find and report your paper for REF. This means that if you deposit your AAM in a pre-print server, you need to deposit in ORA as well. Whether you choose to use a pre-print server or not, for accepted manuscripts please remember to Act on Acceptance and deposit a copy of the AAM in ORA.
Pre-prints and licences
The author usually retains the copyright of the pre-print. As the copyright owner, you can assign a licence to your pre-print to describe what use may be made of your paper. Many authors choose to use one of the Creative Commons licences. The choice of licence is up to the copyright holder. The resources below may help you to choose the licence for your work.
iThenticate (Turnitin) Understanding Creative Commons for Researchers. Jonathan Bailey.
Wikipedia – Creative Commons license
Resources specifically for bioarxiv authors:
The licensing of bioRxiv preprints. Daniel Himmelstein
Help and advice: