What better for your career than a publication? A preprint.
Publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the goal of almost all academic research, as authorship is accepted by the scientific community as a professional achievement. This is a challenge for early career researchers, or ECRs, as the modern peer review process can take months or even years from initial submission to final acceptance.
ECRs can get stuck trying to leverage a completed project into a career move without final acceptance for publication. Often, RCTs mark unpublished manuscripts as “in preparation”, “under review”, or “accepted”, but this does not help a recruitment committee to review the work itself. One way around this problem is to pre-print.
Preprinting is the practice of uploading a completed manuscript to a public server. Currently more than 50 preprint servers cover a wide range of disciplines, and conversations about the practice have reached the traditional media. The overall growth of preprint manuscripts is accelerating.
So should you join the preprint revolution?
Advantages and disadvantages of preprinting
Submitting an article outside of an academic journal allows an author to immediately begin promoting their work. A first or co-first author in the job market can link directly to the manuscript in their CV and during interviews. Additionally, studies show that preprints that are then published in a peer-reviewed journal have increased readership and are quoted more often. Preprinting not only speeds up the initial sharing process, but also adds long-term value.
One of the reasons for this increase in readership is that preprints have no access barriers. Preprint servers are free to use and access, expanding the reach of an article’s readership and enabling open science. Anyone can read, comment on, and quote preprints, giving preprint works a wider audience.
Given the accessibility of preprints, authors often worry about the risk of a scoop – a competing research group will see the preprint and rush to publish their results in a journal before the authors of the preprint have a chance to do it themselves. However, I have not seen any evidence that data published in preprints is retrieved more often than data held until publication in the journal.
In fact, the opposite is true. Researchers have used their preprints to initiate collaborations with other groups in the field or to coordinate simultaneous publication of their work, thereby avoiding concerns about priority claims. As a recent example, Josh Hardy, assistant research associate at Monash University, saw a preprint from another group and contacted the authors of the preprint. The two groups coordinated the publication in the journal of their respective articles, which ended up appearing in the same newspaper.
The number of articles printed on preprint servers has jumped over the past two years.
All authors should be on board to pre-print a manuscript, and conversations should take place early in the writing process so that there is time to address concerns. There are a variety of resources that can ease their concerns, such as the ASAP Organic FAQs.
There are a few important things to consider once you have the green light for preprint.
- Journal: If you plan to submit the manuscript to a journal, familiarize yourself with the journal’s editorial policies regarding preprints. Some journals specify which preprint servers they accept for preprint deposit.
- License: It is also important to think about the license you will apply to the preprint. There are several options – from unlicensed (meaning you don’t give the default permission to reuse the work) to a range of Creative Commons licenses that designate the type of uses allowed.
- Format: In general, preprint servers are format-independent, which means that they accept a single file of your manuscript in any format (for example, a single PDF file in the journal formatting style of your choice!), then the author information. However, some journals work with preprint servers to allow direct submission of your manuscript to a journal after publication on the preprint server. You may only need to click a button to preprint and submit the journal!
Many researchers are still wary of preprinting; maybe you or a co-author have unresolved concerns. A more detailed guide to preprints, their history, and the current state of adoption is available as a preprint (of course!): A preprint guide for early career researchers.” I also suggest you keep an eye out for the latest preprints coming out in your area of research. New results are preprinted every day, and you just might find your next collaborator!