Your Preprint Questions, Answered

“Early bird” by Katy Warner is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Last year, we noted that preprints were “having a moment.” Since that time, a number of new discipline-specific preprint servers have launched (PsyArXiv, LawArXiv, and engrXiv), and more are on the way (Chemrxiv, PaleorXiv, and SportRxiv, to name a few). In addition, funding organizations, such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, have begun to provide financial support for preprint servers. Still doubt the rising popularity of preprints? There’s even a new app for rating preprints in the life sciences called Papr, which calls itself “Tinder for preprints.”

Are you thinking of posting a preprint? Here are some things you might be wondering about:

What exactly is a preprint?

A preprint is usually defined as a piece of scholarship that has not been peer reviewed or formally published. Many preprints do go on to be published in academic journals. One 2013 study, for example, found that 64% of the work that is posted in arXiv has been published in academic journals. However, there is also small group of scholars who have begun posting what they call “final version preprints.”

Why should I post a preprint of my work?

Posting a preprint allows you to get your research out into the world quickly and easily. That’s good for the advancement of knowledge, but it’s also good because it enables you to position yourself as the originator of a certain claim or technique, even before your article is formally published. Posting a preprint is also a great way to get feedback on your work from others, and make your scholarship even better.

Can I still submit my manuscript to a journal if I previously posted it on a preprint server?

In most cases, yes. A growing number of journals welcome manuscript submissions that first appeared as preprints. BioRxiv, for example, has a manuscript transfer process which makes it easy for researchers to submit their preprint to over 120 scholarly journals. That having been said, there are still a few journals that consider the posting of preprints to be “prior publication.” Make sure to read the policies of the journal you are interested in submitting to. Wikipedia also has a list preprint policies by journal.

How will people find my preprint?

Many preprint servers assign DOIs (digital object identifiers) to preprints, which make them easier to discover (although the popular arXiv does not). In addition, a number of preprint servers are indexed by Google Scholar. Nevertheless, if you want people to read your preprint, you should be prepared to do your own promotion. Use social media to draw attention to your work.

How should I license my preprint?

As the author, you automatically own the copyright to your work. However, adding a Creative Commons (CC) license tells people how your preprint can be reused. Some preprint servers require a CC license for any work that is posted. Others, such as SSRN or Humanities Commons CORE, do not. We recommend adding a CC license to all preprints you post.

Can I cite a preprint?

Yes. If you have evaluated a preprint and find it to useful to your research, definitely go ahead and cite it. Just make sure to note in your citation that it is a preprint. Also make sure you are citing the version that you actually used. One caveat: there are a few journals that do not allow researchers to cite preprints, although this policy seems to be changing. If you are unsure, ask your editor. Writing a grant application? The NIH recently announced that investigators are free to cite their own preprints in research proposals or projects reports.

Have another question about preprints that we didn’t answer? Let us know in the comments.

Project to Watch: SocArXiv


In a recent post, we argued that preprints are having a moment. Here’s further proof: this week, the Center for Open Science and the University of Maryland launched a new repository for social science research, called SocArXiv (the name comes in part from the well-known preprint repository arXiv). Currently, there is a temporary home for the repository here, with a more robust platform coming in the near future. In addition to preprints, SocArXiv also accepts conference papers, working papers, datasets and code. The project is being led by Philip N. Cohen, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland. The steering committee includes scholars, librarians, and open access advocates.

Interested in submitting? Just e-mail from your primary e-mail address. Put the title of your work in the subject line, and the abstract in the body of your e-mail. Then attach the work as a PDF or Word file. Finally, hit send. Your scholarship should appear on the site shortly and you should be automatically registered for an Open Science Framework account. Use this account to go into the page for your work on the site and add any relevant tags. Just make sure that you have the rights to anything you post. If you’re not sure, check your publication agreement or search SHERPA/RoMEO, a database of publisher copyright and self-archiving policies. And remember: this method of submission is only temporary. Once the permanent SocArXiv platform is up and running we will update this post.

Some researchers may wonder why they should post their work to SocArXiv, when there are so many other options, including another open access repository, the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). SSRN was founded in 1994 by Wayne Marr, a professor of finance, and Michael Jensen, and professor of business administration. It includes scholarship from a range of disciplines, from accounting to economics to political science. The business model of SSRN has always been different than most other open access repositories. Unlike arXiV, which is based at Cornell University and funded by grants and library support, SSRN is a privately-held corporation. While all deposited papers are free for users to read, SSRN also offers paid content to users through its partnerships with other publishers (such as Wiley-Blackwell). In May of this year, a major change came to SSRN when the platform was bought by Elsevier, a large Dutch company that publishes some of the world’s top journals. Elsevier also owns the reference manager Mendeley. SSRN’s management claims that all the scholarship on the site will remain free. They also argue that Elsevier’s ownership will only make SSRN better, providing them with the resources they need to make much needed improvements in the design and functionality of the site. Many scholars, librarians, and other experts, however, are worried. They wonder what Elsevier will do with all the scholarly data it now owns, and how the company will try to monetize that data. Similar concerns have been raised about other popular scholarly sharing platforms, including and ResearchGate. Kevin Smith, the Dean of Libraries at the University of Kansas, has called this trend “the commodification of the professoriate.”  SocArXiv, then, offers a non-commercial alternative that puts scholars’ interests first.