Impact Challenge Day 16: Post your preprints

Today, we’ll expand on self-archiving your articles to cover how you can make your article preprints available online.

“Publishing” your preprints has been popular in disciplines like physics for a while, and it’s starting to catch on in other fields, too. It’s easy to see why: publishing preprints gets your work out right away, while still letting you publish the formally peer-reviewed version later. That has some big advantages:

  • You establish intellectual precedence for your ideas
  • You can start accumulating citations right away
  • You can get early feedback from colleagues
  • It helps research in your field move more quickly

In today’s challenge, we’ll correct some common misconceptions about sharing preprints, and discuss your options for where to post them. Let’s get down to it!

Preprints – facts vs. fiction

FACT: Posting preprints makes your research freely available to all

You can get the “prestige” of publishing with certain toll-access journals while still archiving your work in places where the public and other scholars can access it. That access means that others can cite your work before its been formally published, getting you more citations. (More on that in a moment.) More importantly, that access fulfills your duty to science and humankind: to advance knowledge for all.

FICTION: Journals won’t publish your work if it’s already been posted online

It’s a common misconception that if you post your preprints online before they’ve been published, most journals won’t allow you to publish it formally, citing “prior publication.” As ecologist Ethan White points out,

The vast majority of publication outlets do not believe that preprints represent prior publication, and therefore the publication ethics of the broader field of academic publishing clearly allows this. In particular Science, Nature, PNAS, the Ecological Society of America, the Royal Society, Springer, and Elsevier all generally allow the posting of preprints.

And some publishers (PLOS, PeerJ, and eLife, among others) even encourage the posting of preprints! You can check this list of preprint policies or Sherpa/Romeo to find out what the policies are for your journal of choice. If you’re still unsure, contact your journal’s editors for more information.

FACT: Preprints can accumulate citations that traditional articles can’t

A major advantage to preprints is the speed with which they can accumulate citations. Scientists report getting citations for preprints in articles that are published before their articles are, and citing others ahead of their article’s formal publication. Would you prefer that others didn’t cite your preprint, and waited for the final copy? That’s as easy as adding a warning to the header of your article (as we see here and here).

FICTION: You’ll get scooped

Some worry that if their results are online before publication, others will be able to scoop them by publishing a similar study. Yet, researchers share their work all the time at conferences without similar worries, and in fact having a digital footprint that proves you’ve established intellectual precedence can prevent scooping.

As paleontologist Mike Taylor points out, “I can’t think of anyone who would be barefaced enough to scoop [something] that had already been published on arXiv…If they did, the whole world would know unambiguously exactly what had happened.”

FACT: Preprints can advance science much more rapidly than traditional publishing can

By posting your preprints, others can more quickly build upon your work, accelerating science and discovery.  After all, it can take years for papers to be published after their acceptance. And that can lead to situations like Mike Taylor’s:

We wrote the bulk of the neck-anatomy paper back in 2008 — the year that we first submitted it to a journal. In the four years since then, all the observations and deductions that it contains have been unavailable to the world. And that is stupid.

Preprints will help you avoid four year (!) publication delays.

FACT: Preprints aren’t rigorously peer reviewed

It’s 100% true that most preprints aren’t peer reviewed beyond a simple sanity check before going online for the world to see. It’s possible that the lack of peer review means that incorrect results could get circulated, leading to confusion or misinformation down the line. (Of course, peer-reviewed work is also often retracted or modified after publication–no one’s perfect ;))   A great tool to manage the versions of a paper, including preprints, is CrossMark, which was invented to provide an easy-to-find breadcrumb trail that leads from the preprint to the peer-reviewed paper to any subsequent, corrected versions of the paper.

FACT: Feedback on your work, before you submit it

If you’re posting your work to a disciplinary preprint server where your colleagues are likely to read it, you can benefit from your community’s constructive feedback ahead of submitting your article for publication. As genomics researcher Nick Loman explains,

[I find very useful] the benefits of publishing to a self-selected audience who are genuinely interested in this subject, and actively wish to read and critique such papers out of professional curiosity, not just because they are lucky/unlucky enough to be selected as peer reviewers.

And even if your work is already in press, you can get feedback on your soon-to-be-published work immediately, rather than months (or years) later when the paper is finally published.

Where to post preprints

Options abound for posting your preprints. Note that some of the following options are considered commercial repositories, and thus might not be eligible for use under some publishers’ conditions.


A popular, discipline-agnostic, commercial repository that’s free to use and has a CLOCKSS-backed preservation strategy. Figshare issues DOIs for content it hosts, offers altmetrics (views and shares) to help you track the readership and interest in your preprint, and requires CC-BY licenses for publicly accessible preprints. Figshare’s commenting feature allows for easy, public feedback on your work.

One downside to Figshare is that it’s easy for your preprint to get lost in the mix amongst all the other data, posters, and other scholarly outputs that are shared on the site, from many different disciplines. It’s also a for-profit venture, meaning it wouldn’t meet the non-commercial requirement that some journals have for preprints.

PeerJ PrePrints

A preprint server for the biomedical sciences that’s closely integrated with the Open Access journal, PeerJ. PeerJ PrePrints is free to use and popular in the Open Science community due to its sleek submission interface and the availability of altmetrics. PeerJ PrePrints also offers a commenting feature for feedback.

Like Figshare, PeerJ PrePrints will not meet the “non-commercial” requirement that some journals have for how preprints are shared.


ArXiv is one of the oldest and most famous preprint servers, and it serves mostly the physics, maths, and computational science communities. It’s a non-profit venture run by Cornell University Library, meaning it meets the “non-commercial” requirement of some publishers. By virtue of being a disciplinary repository, it’s a good place to post your work so that others in your field will read it.

Two drawbacks of ArXiv are that it’s not often used by those outside of physics and its other core disciplines, and that it doesn’t offer altmetrics, making it impossible to know the extent to which your work has been viewed and downloaded on the platform.

Ethan White has a great list of preprint servers on his blog; check it out for more preprint server options.


For today’s homework, you’re going to do some due diligence. Use this list of preprint policies and Sherpa/Romeo or to learn what journals in your discipline allow pre-publication archiving, and do some thinking on how you can share your next study prior to publication. That way, when you write your next article, you’ve got a preprint server in mind for it, so you can share it as quickly as possible.

And if you didn’t finish uploading preprints for articles you’ve already published (your homework from yesterday), upload them today. The more content you’ve got online and freely available, the more everyone benefits!

Tomorrow: ORCID identifiers to collect and claim your articles, datasets, and more. Stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “Impact Challenge Day 16: Post your preprints

  1. risler says:

    You say Arxiv doesn’t block submissions except for a sanity check but that is not true. By the way how would you know this??? They block uploads not sent by those at universities and which present new ideas uniformly. They are engaging in secret censorship while using public funds from NSF and are risking getting sued.

    • Hi there,

      My comments about a quick “sanity check” for posting preprints wasn’t related to ArXiv; it was a broader statement aimed at the sharing of preprints in general.

      While I don’t know that I’d agree that the folks at ArXiv are “engaging in secret censorship” of any sort, I would agree that their endorsement system and criteria [1] could be made more transparent.

      Thanks for reading!



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