To understand why preprint servers are different, let's start with a quick review of the article publishing process. (For a more entertaining review and explanation of preprint servers, click on the image below to watch a video from ASAPbio.) This example assumes your article is accepted by the first journal:
- write your manuscript
- submit to a journal
- editor approves manuscript
- peers review the manuscript and request revisions
- revisions made and manuscript resubmitted
- manuscript accepted
- copy editing occurs
- article published
This process can take a few months to over a year. And if your article is rejected by the first journal, you may have to go through the process again, at a second journal.
To speed up the communication of new findings, researchers can share their manuscripts before submitting them to a journal by posting them on preprint servers. Preprint is the term for a manuscript or paper that hasn't gone through the peer review process.
Preprint servers can be run by professional societies, universities, publishers, or funders. Many focus on a particular discipline, others are multidisciplinary. There's been a big push for moving academic papers from behind subscription paywalls and into places where everyone can read them. Federal funding agencies require articles and data to be publicly available at some point in the publication cycle.
Below are some of the disciplinary preprint servers, so you can take a look at what's freely available. If you're interested in publishing in one of these, you can talk with your librarian for more information.
- arXiv - the original physics-oriented preprint server, now hosted at Cornell University
- bioRxiv - a life sciences server, supported by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
- engRxiv - a preprint server for engineers, supported by the Open Science Framework (OSF)
- PsyArXiv - an effort started by the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS) that uses the OSF infrastructure
- SocArXiv - focuses on sociology; it's a collaboration between the University of Maryland and OSF
- ChemRxiv - recently announced by the American Chemical Society