TReQ: 4 Preprints

16 December, 2021

Reading time: 7 minutes

This video tutorial explains how preprints can help improve the transparency, reproducibility, and quality (TReQ) of applied research.

TReQ (Improving the transparency, reproducibility and quality of your research): 4 Preprints

Presented by Michael Fell

This video tutorial explains how preprints can help improve the transparency, reproducibility, and quality (TReQ) of applied research. Preprints are versions of a research paper published prior to peer (independent expert) review by a journal. We discuss their benefits and address concerns both for you as a researcher and for science and society in general, and show you how to go about using them. This is video 4 of 6 from our team at University College London.

TReQ preprints: video transcript

[Introduction slide 1: title “TReQ: improving the transparency, reproducibility and quality of your research”]

[Introduction slide 2: title “Video Four: Preprints”]

Michael Fell: The next research practice we’re going to talk about is publishing preprints.

[Definition slide with title “Preprint: A non-peer-reviewed version of a manuscript that is made freely accessible online”]

Michael Fell: So a preprint is a non-peer-reviewed version of a manuscript, which is made freely accessible online. In this video, we’ll be looking at some of the concerns that preprints can help address, some of the benefits they bring for researchers, some of the concerns there are around using preprints and some practical tips to get you started.

[Slide titled “The peer review process”]

Michael Fell: As researchers, a lot of the work that we produce ends up in academic journals, and will go through the process of peer review. So while it’s not always perfect, the point of peer review is to offer an element of quality control, so other researchers have the opportunity to comment on the rigour with which our work has been conducted and on whether our conclusions are justified.

[Text slide with bullet points:

  • Peer review offers an element of quality control
  • It allows other researchers to comment on how well conducted our work is
  • It allows others to check whether our conclusions are justified]

Michael Fell: However, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced, the process of peer review can introduce very long delays between the work being completed and it being available for other researchers to use.

[Slide with an animated white icon depicting a timer with the hands quickly turning round the clock face on a plain turquoise background and title “Peer review can cause long delays before work is made available for other researchers to use”.]

Michael Fell: This means there’s often an extended period between new knowledge being produced and others being able to access and act upon it. And this can be especially problematic in fast moving and highly applied fields. Energy research is a good example, given the climate emergency.

[Slide with an animated icon depicting a hand held out flat with a lightbulb on their palm which has a cog turning inside and title “Preprints allow you to make your work available to others from the moment you choose”.]

Michael Fell: With a preprint, you make your work available for others to use from the moment you choose. Our reliance on publishing in journals also deepens existing inequalities…

[Slide with an animated icon depicting a cog turning with an exclamation mark in front of it and title “Publishing in journals deepens existing inequalities where readers cannot afford subscriptions”.]

Michael Fell: …where readers are unable to afford subscriptions, such as for institutions in developing countries, for example. Preprints get over this by making the content available for free…

[Slide with an animated icon depicting four hands coming in to join together in a symbol of mutual assistance and title “Preprints overcome this by making all content available for free”.]

Michael Fell: …which also makes it available to other stakeholders like those in policy or industry, for example. And of course, given that so much research is taxpayer funded, it also makes our work available to the general public.

[Slide with an animated icon depicting three people sitting behind a desk facing the viewer with speech bubbles signifying them giving feedback and title “Publishing preprints is an opportunity to get additional feedback”.]

Michael Fell: Publishing preprints also gives you the opportunity to get additional feedback in advance of going through the peer review process or on top of your existing peer review comments.

[Slide with an animated icon depicting the silhouette of a head side on, with a lightbulb next to it with a pencil inside and title “Preprints signal your interest in a particular research area”.]

Michael Fell: Preprints can also act as a bit of a flag in the sand, signalling your interest in a particular research area, which can be particularly helpful for early career researchers, where you can list them in your CV, which could be preferable simply to putting under review, for example.

[Slide titled “Important considerations”]

Michael Fell: There are, however, some legitimate concerns about preprints that are worth reflecting on. Because they’re not peer reviewed, if there are problems with the method or the analysis, for example, this can be dangerously misleading, especially if these get picked up by the media.

[Text slide with bullet points:

  • Lack of peer review means errors in work can be misleading
  • Preprints should always be clearly labelled as preprints]

Michael Fell: Preprints should clearly be labelled as preprints and readers need to take a buyer beware approach.

[Slide containing an image of a preprint example document. The video zooms in on the document to show the line “PLEASE NOTE: this manuscript has not been peer reviewed” being highlighted]

Michael Fell: Of course, having said that, just because something’s been peer reviewed doesn’t mean it necessarily is perfect and that we shouldn’t bring a critical eye to reading that too. Now another concern could be that people are worried about not getting the level of quality control that peer review brings before they share their work.

[Text slide with bullet points:

  • Some authors may be worried that preprints do not offer the same level of ‘quality control’ as peer review
  • Preprints do provide an opportunity to get feedback
  • Science should be an iterative and collaborative process]

Michael Fell: And it’s important to remember that they do provide an opportunity to get feedback, either before or during peer review and that anyway, science really should be an iterative and often collaborative endeavour. Now, some people might be concerned about whether they’ll still be able to publish in a peer review journal, having published a preprint. Now while it’s always important to check in the author guidelines, almost all quality journals now expressly permit preprints.

[Slide titled “How to publish a preprint”]

Michael Fell: To publish a preprint, all you have to do is find an appropriate preprint server. It could be one that’s either in your specific subject area or a general one, and upload the manuscript at any point before the official publication.

Michael Fell: And you can find a full list of preprint servers on the OSF, or the Open Science Framework. Once your preprint’s online, it’ll be given a DOI, which means it will show up in Google scholar searches. And after that point, it also can’t be deleted, but it can be revised. Once your final manuscript is published in a journal, it’s also good practice to link from the preprint to the final published version.

[Slide titled “Summary”]

Michael Fell: So to sum up, preprints are pre-peer-review versions of manuscripts that are made freely accessible online. They’re intended to accompany, not replace the peer review process, but they can help make your findings much more quickly and more widely accessible. It is however, important to clearly mark them as preprints and to read them with a critical eye.

[Closing slide 1: title “Up Next: Open Data and Code”]

[Closing slide 2: title “TReQ: improving the transparency, reproducibility and quality of your research”]

[Closing slide 3: title “For links to further resources and more about us visit: bit.ly/TReQtools”]

[Closing slide 4: UCL logo, CREDS: Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions logo with title “Supported by”]

Banner photo credit: Chuttersnap on Unsplash