What is a preprint?

A preprint is a full draft of a research paper that is shared publicly before it has been peer reviewed by a journal. There are many different names for preprints depending on discipline and conventions, including working paper, discussion paper, technical report.

But just remember if you are sharing research publicly before peer review, it is a preprint.

three sections with document icons. Step 1. You write a draft of your research paper and share it publicly. This is your preprint. Step 2. Peer-review. Step 3. Paper published

What are the benefits to me as a researcher?

  • Feedback: Preprints allow you to receive valuable feedback from readers before publishing a final version
  • Primacy: A preprint is a time-stamp of your research and can help prevent your work being ‘scooped’. Your preprint submission date is valid as evidence in the research timeline.
  • Open: Unlike journals, which can be behind paywalls, preprints are accessible to all
  • Credit: Preprints are citable outputs
  • Cost: Preprint servers are free for both the depositing author and for the reader
  • Versioning: Sharing versions of a paper can indicate how the research developed, which can be useful for readers and the academic record
  • Speed: Unlike the journal publishing process, preprints can be deposited and made public either instantly or in a matter of days, dependent on the preprint server admittance policy
  • Journals: When the time comes to submit to a journal, some preprint servers offer to transmit manuscript files and author information directly to journals on your behalf, reducing administration time. Preprint servers that support this include medRxiv (see M2J list) and bioRxiv (see B2J list)
  • Visibility: Studies suggest that posting a preprint may have a positive effect on the citations and alternative metrics for the published article. One study is The effect of bioRxiv preprints on citations and altmetrics, and another is Meta-Research: Releasing a preprint is associated with more attention and citations for the peer-reviewed article

How do I "publish" a preprint?

Post the paper to a preprint server (a website similar to a repository). Some preprint servers are discipline specific (for example arXivmedRxiv, and bioRxiv). There are also general purpose repositories such as Zenodo and Figshare that can be used to upload preprints from all disciplines.

Some preprint servers are community-run and not-for-profit, whilst others are run by academic institutions or commercial publishers.

If you are unsure of a suitable preprint server, we recommend discussing possible servers with your co-authors or colleagues in your field. ASAP Bio maintains a directory of servers by subject.

You should not expect a preprint server to request money to deposit or read a preprint.

What should I consider before sharing a preprint?

  • Preprints have not undergone peer review. Authors should be clear about this when sharing preprints online and refer to the College’s preprint communication advice in regards to promoting findings from preprints.
  • Some journals may not accept submissions that have been shared as a preprint. Increasingly publishers are explicitly embracing preprints, but we recommend you check with your journal publisher or check a current list of journal and publisher policies
  • Wellcome Trust funded researchers are "strongly encouraged" to post preprints under a CC BY licence on a platform that is indexed in Europe PMC and where there is a "significant public health benefit" such as the COVID-19 and Ebola pandemics are required to publish preprints
  • Authors considering patent protection should speak to their Faculty Intellectual Property office before posting a preprint

How do I get recognition for preprints at Imperial?

After depositing in a preprint server, you can add the record to your Imperial Symplectic account. To do this, select Working Paper as the publication type when creating your record and provide the link to the preprint server version.

By doing this your preprint will be added to our institutional repository, Spiral which is highly indexed in search engines such as Google. By adding your preprints to Symplectic you will be able to showcase your preprints on your public profiles such as your professional web page (PWP) or ORCiD.

How depositing in Symplectic can help disseminate preprints via Spiral, search engines, PWPs, and orcid

Caution for students

Preprints are not peer reviewed. You will need to take this into account when using preprints in your research and studies. For more information and advice on using resources for your research and studies please contact your subject librarian.

Interesting preprints

  • The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) programme is the largest piece of research looking at how the COVID-19 virus is spreading across the UK. REACT findings have been shared via the medical preprints server medRxiv
  • The Theoretical Physics Group at Imperial College London have a long history of submitting their preprints to arXiv, which can be seen on their Group preprints page