The transformative role of preprints




Knowledge Exchange

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Investigating the preprints landscape and evolving trends in research cultures, practices and technological infrastructures.

Preprints are research papers typically produced prior to peer review and publication in a journal. They have become more widespread in many disciplines over the last few years, partly to counter the slow pace of traditional publishing and partly to allow authors to reach a broader audience.

We began looking at the use of preprints in 2018 in collaboration with Knowledge Exchange – a group of national organisations from six European countries. Following our initial report and slide deck, we published our final report on the subject in 2019.

As part of this work, we interviewed 38 stakeholders, including researchers, research performing organisations, research funding organisations and pre-print service providers, and reviewed more than 60 literature sources.

It became clear that people valued the ability of preprints to carry out early and fast dissemination as well as the opportunities for feedback and openness. The main concerns over preprints were the lack of quality assurance, the potential for the media to report inaccurate research and journals rejecting articles if a preprint has been posted.

Notably, the role of social media platforms such as Twitter has to play in the rise of preprints cannot be underestimated, particularly in its accessibility as a forum for publicising work and exposing it to a wider, if not, global audience.

It is not yet clear who will be responsible for posting preprints in the long-term, whether this be researchers or publishers. This will partly be affected by the availability of sustainable business models.

Furthermore, we think traditional academic journals might have to re-frame their value proposition should preprints grow significantly in popularity in future.
We believe active engagement is needed to build a sustainable future for this growing scholarly communication practice: the higher the level of stakeholder co-ordination, the more positive any outcomes will be for the research community.

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