Preprints – a growing trend

Highlights of the practice, advantages of preprint publications and problematic issues. 24.04.2020

Preprints – a growing trend

What is a preprint?

A preprint is the publication of a completed but yet not published academic research in an open platform.

Although it has become more common only recently, the history of preprint is decades old. In the 1980s, physicists created the very first version of the preprints by mailing preprint versions of their articles to their colleagues and to known physics research centers for feedback before publication (1). 

With the establishment of the "arXiv" preprint server in 1991, in the fields of physics and mathematics it became a common practice to present articles via preprint platforms before a peer review process. Nowadays, with a need to present information faster, the preprint practice has been accepted and implemented by other disciplines as well.

Highlights of the practice

Authors can submit completed research reports to a preprint server either before submitting to a journal or simultaneous with the journal submission. Some of the preprint servers publish the article as it is, while others conduct a general check of plagiarism and scientific content. Since preprint servers contain the very first version of the works, content published on these platforms should not be evaluated as established information.

There are different preprint servers for various fields such as “bioRxiv” for life sciences, “ChemRxiv” for chemistry, and “MedRxiv” for health sciences. Authors should pay attention to choose the most suitable preprint server for their work.

Articles published on the preprint servers are assigned with a DOI, which increases the credibility while making the work citable. All preprint articles can be cited unless the unless the target journal has a policy against it. The suggested citation format of National Institute of Health (NIH) can be seen here.

Journals have different perspectives on preprints. Some journals may choose to not evaluate articles that are published as preprints. For that reason, authors are advised to pay attention to this issue while choosing a journal to submit their research. On the other hand, it is the authors’ responsibility to inform the journal on whether or not their research was made available on a preprint server prior to submission so the final version of their article can be linked with the preprint version.

Advantages of preprint publications and problematic issues

Publishing a research report as a preprint increases the visibility of the article and allows the authors to improve their articles by receiving feedback about their work.

Funders such as UKRI, Wellcome, and NIH have announced that they would accept preprints in grant applications (2).

Preprint platforms also provide an advantage to journal editors. Editors can invite authors to submit the article to their journals for the works they consider important by browsing preprint platforms. At the same time, the partnerships between scientific journals and preprint servers enable simultaneous submission to both platforms, and the article submission process becomes easier (3). 

A preprint’s submission to a scientific journal creates a discussion of originality. International Committee of Medical Editors (ICMJE) states that their recommendation on duplicate submissions does not prevent a journal from evaluating preprints for publications (4).  Committee on Publications Ethics (COPE), on the other hand, recommends that journals should make transparent policies on what to consider as prior publication (3).  Various scientific journals such as PLoS, BMJ, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Journal of Neuroscience, IEEE, and Cell accept preprints for evaluation (5).  However, some journals evaluate preprints unconditionally others may have some restrictions on various issues such as licensing.

COPE, in the article on preprints published in March 2018, addresses the preprint issue in terms of all stakeholders, including authors, journals, publishers, and preprint servers, and makes suggestions on the subject. COPE recommends journals to shape their preprint policy and authors to disclose any prior publication on a preprint platform. The full text of the COPE's preprint discussion can be accessed here.

Editorial Development 


  1. Klein SR. On the Origin of Preprints. Science 2017; 358: 602.
  2. Fry NK, Marshall H, Mellins-Cohen T. In praise of preprints. Microb Genom 2019; 5: e000259.
  3. COPE. Preprints Version 1: March 2018. Accessed on 22 Nisan 2020.
  4. ICMJE. Overlapping publications. Accessed on 22 Nisan 2020.
  5. List of academic journals by preprint policy. Wikipedia, last edited on 11 February 2020.