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Research support

Helping you to undertake and publish your research, and maximise its impact.

Guidance on preprints

What is a preprint?

A preprint is a complete version of a scholarly manuscript that has been openly shared but has not yet been published in a traditional academic journal.

They can also be referred to as working papers or discussion papers as this varies within disciplines.

Preprints are established practice in some disciplines, for example in physics, maths and astronomy; and emerging as common practice in other areas including in the biomedical and social sciences fields. 

To facilitate open research practices, UKRI generally encourages the use of preprints across the research disciplines that they support, and several UKRI research councils actively encourage the use of preprints to help disseminate emerging research:

BBSRC: Access to research outputs – UKRI
MRC: Preprints – UKRI

Watch this short introductory film for an overview of preprints and how they work.
Preprints - a UKRN animated primer (YouTube 3:07 mins)

What are the benefits to you as a researcher?

  • Feedback: Preprints allow you to receive valuable feedback from readers, which can assist you in improving your manuscript before publishing a final version and enhance collaboration.
  • Primacy: A preprint is a time stamp of your research and can help prevent your work being ‘scooped’. Your preprint submission date is valid as evidence in the research timeline and can help in identifying instances of plagiarism.
  • Open: Unlike journals, which can be behind paywalls, preprints are accessible to all. High visibility of OA items can help increase readership and citations. Some servers provide numbers of hits and downloads per item.
  • Credit: Preprints are citable outputs. Preprint servers usually assign a unique identifier to each work enabling the work to be easily cited. Preprints can be assigned DOIs, added to CVs, used in grant and job applications, and cited in advance of publication.
  • Cost: Preprint servers are free for both the author and for the reader. Research can be accessed by those who cannot afford subscriptions or outside academia (e.g., charities, policy makers and the general public).
  • Versioning: It is possible to track the changes to a discussion because the server retains previous versions, indicating how the research developed, which can be useful for readers and the academic record.
  • Copyright: Authors usually retain the copyright of their work on preprint servers.
  • Speed: Preprints can be deposited and made public either instantly or in a matter of days, dependent on the preprint server admittance policy, allowing rapid dissemination and timely sharing of research findings.
  • Visibility: Many preprints may never actually be submitted to a journal. They are particularly useful in allowing the publication of null and negative results, which traditionally are harder to get published but can still be valuable to the understanding of the research area.

For papers that do go on to appear in a journal, studies suggest that posting a preprint may have a positive effect on the citations and alternative metrics for the published article:

Taking a balanced view

As well as the benefits, you also need to be aware of the possible downsides of preprints.

  • Potential for errors: Preprints may contain errors or flaws that have not been identified or corrected yet, which could mislead other researchers or the public. 
  • Misinterpretation: Preprints may be misinterpreted by the public or the media, which could lead to misinformation or misunderstandings about scientific research. 
  • Bias: Preprints may be biased towards certain perspectives or research areas, which could limit the diversity of scientific research being shared. 
  • It is important to note that preprints should not be considered as definitive or conclusive research findings, and they should always be interpreted with caution.
  • In addition to these issues, some researchers fear that producing a preprint may mean they are much less likely to be accepted for publication. 

Does sharing a preprint prevent my work from being published in a journal?

Publishing a preprint is, in the majority of cases, a stage on the journey to peer-reviewed publication. Many journals will happily consider articles that have been previously posted as preprints. However, some journals do consider preprints as prior publication. Authors can check whether their journal of choice allows preprint publication by looking up the journal’s policy in Sherpa/Romeo.

How to share a preprint

Preprints are commonly hosted on subject-specific preprint servers, which offer an online service that allow authors to upload, describe and disseminate preprints. Most disseminate works as freely available open access (OA) items with no barriers to access. The servers commonly do not charge fees to either authors or readers for using their service. They may be supported by an institution and/or the user community. One or two are owned and operated by commercial companies. You can find a list of preprint servers (also called repositories) at the bottom of this page.

Steps to follow:

  • If you intend to publish your paper, search Sherpa/Romeo and check that your chosen journal permits prior dissemination of preprints.
  • Seek co-author consent to submit the preprint, including the choice of preprint server and license (see below).
  • Locate a preprint server ideal for your research field.
  • Register or create an account on your chosen preprint server.
    • This may include adding your ORCID.Consider a licence.
  • The copyright of the preprint is usually retained by the author or the author’s institution. Although adding a licence to your preprint isn’t mandatory, it is recommended as it communicates to others how your work may be reused. The choice of licence is up to you. Many authors choose to use one of the Creative Commons licences. 
  • Include as much descriptive information (metadata) about your paper as possible to help with discovery of your preprint.
  • Upload a copy of your paper.
    • You may be able to upload accompanying data or other supplementary materials.
    • You can update your preprint and then submit a new version at any time. When you upload the new version, you will see that the old version(s) remains saved, and the new version will be labelled with the version number.

It is considered best practice to link preprints and the final published work (the ‘Version of Record’), so if a work is later published, authors should ensure that the preprint record is updated with a DOI and a URL link to the Version of Record

IMPORTANT: Preprints and the REF

Under current REF guidelines, (we need to continue with REF2021 until new guidelines for the next assessment are released), preprints are permitted as part of the REF submission:
“238. The funding bodies recognise that many researchers derive value from sharing early versions of papers using a pre-print service. Institutions may submit pre-prints as eligible outputs to REF 2021.”

If you want to submit a published version of your paper, the current REF Open Access policy guidelines require the deposit of the author accepted manuscript (AAM) that has been peer reviewed and a later version than a preprint. This means that if you deposit your work as a preprint, and then your paper is accepted for publication, you MUST still deposit your AAM into the CRIS by sending details to 

Further information

Need more help?

Please contact your research support librarian (requires Cranfield login).