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Preprints: What Are They?

By Cyril D. Boateng, PhD

“A preprint is a draft research article that is made available to the scientific community before formal peer review in a scientific journal.”

What if you could put your work online so that other scientists can have access to the progress you have made in research as you await peer review? Publication in scientific journals is a long complicated process. It may take months or even years for an article to be published. This is often frustrating for scientists especially early career researchers who are eager to share their work and get their citation numbers up. This is where preprints come in.

A preprint is a draft research article that is made available to the scientific community before formal peer review in a scientific journal. Even though preprints have been around since the 1960s, the advent of the internet in the 1990s accelerated their availability and gave rise to massive databases. They have seen a significant jump in popularity over the past decade. The preprint is often freely available online. Presently, most publishers allow draft manuscripts to be submitted to preprint servers before submission.

There are significant pros to publishing preprints. The first one is that unlike submitted manuscripts to journals whose review is limited to 2-3 persons, many researchers can have access to the preprint on the server and can point out flaws and suggest improvements. Due to this, there is more potential for improvement of the manuscript before sending to a prestigious journal. Preprints also increase visibility and citations. Studies have shown significant increases in citations, news and social media mentions of researchers who have posted their work on preprints. Lastly, preprints serve as a public record of when a particular research output was discovered. Most preprints are assigned DOIs which allows you to reference them in any public discord or debate.

There are many preprint servers. A specific preprint server for the African research scientific community is AfricArxiv. It is a community-led digital archive for African research communication. They provide a non-profit platform to upload working papers, preprints, accepted manuscripts (post-prints), presentations, and data sets via their partner platforms. AfricArxiv is dedicated to foster research and collaboration among African scientists, enhance the visibility of African research output, and to increase collaboration globally.