Preprints are rapidly gaining popularity, even in chemistry and the life sciences. Should you publish a preprint? Let me help you take that decision by having a closer look at some of the advantages of publishing your study early – and there are a lot of them! This is part 2 of my 3-part series on preprints.
Are you wondering – like so many other scientists – whether to publish your next paper as a preprint? If so, you’ll likely want to make an informed decision. That’s why I’m bringing this series on preprints to you. In the first part of this preprint series, I looked at some common concerns people have about publishing preprints. For example, many scientists wonder whether their target journal allows uploading a version of the paper to the internet before submitting it, how much time they should be prepared to spend to get the most out of publishing a preprint, and if there is a risk to get scooped. Depending on your situation, some of these concerns may indeed be valid.
But let’s have a look at the other side of the coin – the advantages you may benefit from when you publish a preprint. Here we go:
Benefit #1: You are likely to receive higher citation counts
Yes, you heard me right. This finding is based on a study (published as a preprint) looking at more than 7000 bioRxiv papers. The authors found that a peer-reviewed journal article that had been uploaded as a preprint received on average almost three more citations than articles without preprints over a four-year period. The average number of citations for a paper with preprint was about 7 and that of a paper without preprint about 4.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there is necessarily a causal link between preprints and citations. And if there is, we can only speculate about the possible reasons. I can imagine that the higher altmetric scores (see benefit #2) may have something to do with it.
Benefit #2: You receive more exposure with a preprint
People do not only cite journal articles with preprints more frequently, they also tweet more often about them than articles without a preprint. According to the bioRxiv study mentioned in benefit #1, an article without preprint received 1.8 tweets on average, while one with preprint received 2.5 tweets. Can you guess what people on Twitter liked to talk about even more? Yep, the preprint itself, which received about 2.7 tweets per article. The journal papers with a preprint were also mentioned more frequently in blog posts, Wikipedia, and even traditional news articles.
Why is this important? When you research receives greater visibility, it may make a bigger impact by getting on the radar of peers, policymakers, journalists and the public. Also, the social media discussions can help you network – with researchers working on similar topics, scientists with complimentary skills and competitors you would otherwise only have met in a scientific conference.
Benefit #3: Your work sees the world quicker
Publishing the traditional way takes time. Averaged over all journals, the time between submission and publication has been estimated to a little more than three months. But this doesn’t include previous submissions or revisions that still resulted in rejections. Every scientist probably has a story to tell about a manuscript that bounced from journal to journal until it was finally accepted months or years later.
By contrast, publishing a preprint is almost instantaneous: You typically have to wait about two days between submission and publication.
This has at least three advantages for you:
You can show your peers what you are up to and receive any valuable comments a lot earlier
You can show funding agencies and employers that you have been productive, which is especially critical for new principal investigators
You can claim priority of the findings because your preprint comes with a timestamp that cannot be edited (for more information on this, see concern #4 in part 1 of the preprint series).
The sped-up publication of your research also has some farther-reaching implications: Science can develop faster. By publishing a preprint, your peers can take your data into account months earlier, which allows them to advance their research more quickly.
Also, journalists, journal editors and the public get a more accurate picture of what research is currently being undertaken.
Benefit #4: Your article may improve
When publishing your study on a preprint server, you can usually choose to receive public comments on your work. Even if you don’t select this option, people can reach out to you privately. And the feedback you receive may help you to improve your paper. In some cases, researchers have even found new co-authors by posting a preprint, with whom they created a stronger manuscript together.
I recommend reading this thread on Twitter for an encouraging preprint story on this point:
Last year I posted a preprint.— Dan Quintana 🐰 (@dsquintana) 10 February 2018
Doing this set off a chain of events that convinced me I should post a preprint for ALL my manuscripts.
Here’s my story (1/17)
When you have a chance to react to your readers’ feedback before the peer-review takes place, you might also get your work published in a peer-reviewed journal more quickly By improving your manuscript based on the feedback, the peer reviewers may request fewer revisions and the editor may be less likely to reject your paper.
Benefit #5: It’s a place for “unpublishable” data
The vast majority of peer-reviewed journals only accept papers that tell a story, often excluding the “boring” null or negative results. For data like this, preprints can be an excellent option: Others can benefit from your observations and you can show the world that you have been productive.
Benefit #6: You can publish your research with open access for free
Although preprints are openly accessible, they don’t cost money. That’s quite the opposite for many peer-reviewed journals where open-access fees can amount to several thousand dollars. Therefore, publishing a preprint is a great way for your research to gain increased visibility even when your university’s belt is tightened.
Benefit #7: Your work gets published when you are still excited about it!
Do you also struggle to celebrate accomplishments that took a lot of back and forth to achieve? Honestly, I mainly feel relief in those situations. So, considering the time, effort and emotions that are required to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal, you may not feel excited anymore when your paper is finally accepted. That’s where publishing your paper as a preprint comes in handy "Getting the paper out when you are still excited about it is an amazing feeling", Stephen Royle, a cell biologist at University of Warwick in the UK, told the Science magazine.
There you have it: 7 benefits of publishing preprints. What’s your verdict – are you going to try uploading your next paper as a preprint? Let me know in the comments below!
Head over to the third and final part of this preprint series for some essential tips for preparing a preprint.
Do you need help to get your preprint ready for submission? Check out my scientific writing coaching and editing packages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I’m Dr Anna Clemens, a scientific editor and writing coach for scientists. I give workshops about scientific writing, offer strategy calls and structurally edit papers and proposals. I’d love to work with you, please click here for more information.
I regularly blog about scientific writing and write articles about science for magazines and websites. I hold a PhD in Chemistry/Materials Science.
When I’m not at my desk, I’m probably hiking with my dog and assistant Zuza or enjoying an oat flat white in one of Prague’s many cosy cafés.