How preprints can make research more discoverable

SSRN’s First Look offers branded preprint sites for journals and societies

By Simanta Buck - June 3, 2021
SSRN First Look image
Cell Press uses Elsevier’s SSRN for it’s Sneak Peak preprint site. (Image ©

Preprints, or research papers that have not yet been peer reviewed, have gained increasing prominence in scholarly publishing over the last few years as they are posted on sites such as ChemRxiv, bioRxiv and Elsevier-owned SSRN. Their use has been a longstanding practice in some fields. In mathematics and physics, for example, almost all scientific papers are self-archived on the arXiv repository before publication in a peer-reviewed journal. In other disciplines, however, their use and the enthusiasm for them is still very much in the development phase.

Nonetheless, in an increasingly open-access driven world, a number of societies are considering the role preprints should play in their own communities.

For authors, there are a number of positives associated with posting a preprint. For example:

  • The paper is discoverable earlier in the publication process. Often, the time lag between submission and publication in a scholarly journal can be months (or longer). A preprint option gives authors the ability to quickly get their work-in-progress in front of the community in advance of the official version-of-record that has been fully vetted and peer reviewed. In the age of the Internet, where information spreads quickly, researchers gain an effective way to share their early-stage research. Preprints on most servers are assigned a digital object identifier (digital currency for a publication) and are thus fully citable (including in US National Institutes of Health and Wellcome Trust grant applications), establishing priorities of discoveries as needed. What’s more, preprints are also archived, ensuring they are made permanently available.
  • They give authors the ability to solicit and receive feedback. Sharing researchers’ early work on a preprint server also gives authors the ability to publicly solicit and receive feedback on their findings, further scientific dialogue, and implement potential paper enhancements. Of course, it’s not a one-way street: for preprint servers that host public commenting, there is a public and transparent review of the preprint as well as responses to the critiques themselves.

Despite these benefits, there are some who question the value of preprints and have raised concerns that they can have a negative impact on scientific discourse if not managed carefully and with relevant disclaimers noting the preliminary nature of the research. This has come to light recently in the form of Covid-19 preprints that have the potential to be misinterpreted as having been fully peer reviewed and vetted. In the interest of transparency, reputable preprint servers, including SSRN, indicate prominently that these papers are preliminary reports that have not yet been peer reviewed.

First Look allows societies and journals to host their own preprints on SSRN

While many well-known preprint servers are multidisciplinary and journal agnostic, in recent years, societies have begun to host preprint servers specifically for their own journal communities. Elsevier’s First Look feature allows societies and journals to host preprint material on a dedicated society-branded site prior to the content being considered for publication in their official journal publication — something the American College of Cardiology and Acta Materialia, Inc have done for selected journals. Moreover, First Look features a branded homepage where societies can display their logo, a short description of the applicable journals and their mission statement. Abstract pages are also branded with the society’s logo, such as this page for JACC: Electrophysiology.

Each preprint server also has a personalized dashboard so a society can track basic usage, and each paper posted to First Look gets its own PlumX Analytics page, which provides metrics on usage and citations, incuding those linked to social media engagement and news mentions. Those who want to follow their society’s preprint content streams can subscribe to get email alerts when new material is posted.

There are two routes to setting up content streams on a First Look preprint server, depending on the needs of your community:

  1. Preprint publication at submission
  2. Preprint publication when a paper goes out for peer review.

Preprints with The Lancet is an example of the former; authors can opt to post their paper on the First Look site at submission, after a standard check for scope suitability. Cell Press’s Sneak Peek site is a version of the latter; authors can opt in to publish their work on the SSRN server when their papers are first sent for peer review.

To learn more about First Look and whether it might be a good fit for your journal or organization, please contact your publisher at Elsevier.


Simanta Buck
Written by

Simanta Buck

Written by

Simanta Buck

Simanta Buck is the Society Publisher at Cell Press, an imprint of Elsevier. She manages the relationship Cell Press has with its five society partners. She has spent 14 years at Cell Press and in that time has led various author hospitality initiatives, helped societies stay informed of various developments in the scientific publishing world and worked to support their journal strategies, written for the Cell Press Crosstalk blog, and co-led the production operations team. She enjoys writing, spending time outside, and being with her family.

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