Using preprints to share findings at all stages of the research life cycle

During the pandemic, research communication and progress accelerated through the massively increased posting of preprints. There are over 38,000 preprints in the NIH’s iSearch COVID-19 portfolio covering topics from molecular virology to epidemiology and treatment. Although the increased use of preprints is a positive development, most preprints still take the form of traditional research papers posted shortly before submission to a journal. As a result, preprints generally appear 4 or 5 months prior to journal publication. However, preprints can be used to share research findings at any stage of the research cycle, as they offer much greater flexibility than journals in terms of the length and format of articles that can be posted. Preprints also provide a way for researchers to receive credit for their work, get community feedback, and establish collaborations with researchers who have related interests, without having to wait for publication in a journal.

We believe that it is now time to take a further step towards accelerating research, by substantially expanding the range of work that is shared via preprints. We envisage preprints reporting a wide variety of findings, including early-stage results from a small set of experiments, negative or inconclusive findings that might never be included in a journal article and no doubt much more. Crucially, any such work must still be communicated in a way that other researchers can build on the work, for example by including all relevant data and details of methodology.

Beyond the traditional journal article

We encourage researchers to preprint their research results as their work progresses, including work they may or may not to submit for journal publication. We include below examples of the types of outputs for which preprints can enable dissemination and feedback, but note that this is not an exhaustive list, we hope that additional uses will arise according to the needs of specific communities.

Early work shared for community input

Preprints allow researchers to share ongoing or preliminary work, including single experiments, where they would like to receive feedback from other researchers.

The preprint may be revised to incorporate additional work and updated as the work develops until the paper takes the form of a more traditional journal article.

Iain Cheeseman’s initial and follow-up tweets

Negative results

Preprints allow researchers to share null, negative and inconclusive findings, including results they may not seek to include in the eventual journal submission. This allows researchers to gain credit for these contributions, which are often not currently published.

Response to or re-analyses of published work

It can be difficult for researchers to publish responses to journal articles, or work that reports re-analyses of data in a prior publication. Preprints allow peers to easily and promptly respond to published work (either in another preprint or a journal article) facilitating scientific discourse and debate.

Confirmatory results & replications

Confirmatory results and replication studies are crucial to support the reliability of scientific evidence, yet, it can prove difficult to publish this type of work in journals, which may not view the work as a sufficient advance. Instead, this valuable information can be shared with the community as preprints.

What next?

We will work to promote this expanded use of preprints for the wide and early dissemination of research outputs. As part of our activities we will:

  • Monitor and report on the prevalence of the type of preprints above
  • Share researchers’ experiences posting preprints in the categories above
  • Identify and address any challenges related to this expanded use of preprints
  • Promote best practices

We will provide updates on our activities via our website and social media. We are keen to hear the experience of those who use preprints in this manner and encourage researchers to contact us when they post a preprint for the outputs above, if they would like to get involved or if they have any questions. Please get in touch via email (iratxe.puebla@asapbio.org) or Twitter (@ASAPbio_).