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Can preprints increase article citations and impact?

Social media app and social networks

There has been much discussion of the potential advantages and disadvantages of preprints in medical publishing over recent years, and last month’s launch of medRxiv was much anticipated. While the community watches with interest to see how this new platform fares, findings from bioRxiv provide a useful indication of what we might expect to see. For instance, a recent preprint posted on the platform reports that papers posted as a preprint before being published in a peer reviewed journal have higher citation levels and Altmetric scores than other articles.

Nicholas Fraser and his co-authors evaluated articles that had been submitted as preprints to bioRxiv between November 2013 and December 2017. When compared with articles without a preprint, they found that:

  • The number of citations to journal articles with preprints was 61% higher.
  • The citation advantage continued 3 years after publication, with average monthly citations per paper around 50% higher for articles with a preprint.
  • Articles with preprints had higher mean counts for all Altmetrics assessed (tweets, blogs, mainstream media outlets, Wikipedia and Mendeley).

The group also noted that:

  • Further work is needed to identify the cause of this citation advantage, which did not appear to be driven by early access or quality effects.
  • Although there was a strong preference to cite a published article rather than the corresponding preprint, citations were also made to preprints themselves, some of which were not subsequently published in peer reviewed journals. The authors highlight that the increased willingness of researchers to cite unreviewed work may be a consideration in current debates on the role of peer review.
  • bioRxiv preprints themselves were widely shared on Twitter and on blogs, but received far less online attention in mainstream media outlets and Wikipedia than the final peer reviewed articles. Fraser and his colleagues suggest that, while authors are comfortable sharing preprints with their peers using informal media platforms, there may be an unwillingness to disclose non-reviewed research to the public.

The authors conclude that “In the continuing online debates surrounding the value of preprints and their role in modern scientific workflows, our results provide support for depositing preprints as a means to extend the reach and impact of work in the scientific community.”

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Summary by Debbie Sherwood BSc from Aspire Scientific

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With thanks to our sponsors, Aspire Scientific Ltd and NetworkPharma Ltd

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