Early sharing not the key factor driving author preprint deposition

Research Publishing
By: Sowmya Swaminathan , Mon Jun 20 2022
Sowmya Swaminathan

Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

In a recent survey of its authors carried out by Springer Nature on the use and perceptions of preprints, with a focused section on its In Review preprint service, data suggests that early sharing is not the only thing authors are looking for when using a preprint server. Sowmya Swaminathan, discusses the survey's implications and what this could mean for the role of publishers in helping to foster open research practices.

Sharing research and data early and openly played an essential role in our understanding and development of responses to the pandemic – on the one hand helping to speed up the validation of data so that researchers could trust it, and on the other hand, helping to combat scientific misinformation, so that wider society could trust it.  Yet despite what ‘being open’ showed to be possible, there are still some barriers and hesitations around both the development and adoption of open research practices – within and outside of the research community – the early sharing of research being one of them.

A survey conducted by Springer Nature on authors’ general perceptions of preprints, demonstrated that despite 85% of respondents declaring awareness of preprints and support for early sharing, opt-in rates were significantly lower. So why, despite the drive and willingness to move to an open research future and desire for early sharing, is there this gap between willingness and action? Conclusions from the above surveys suggest a number of reasons:

  • Lack of understanding around copyright and IP policies
  • Concern around data sharing and its misuse ahead of publication
  • Lack of credit/ recognition for early sharing

Springer Nature also recently surveyed over 152,000 users of In Review (1),a preprint service integrated with peer review. The intention was to better understand the gap between the high number of authors that say they support early sharing, and the lower number that actually opt in to do so, and how authors’ experience of In Review could offer insight into what publishers could be doing better to support open research practices and better enable early sharing.

The survey demonstrated that key drivers amongst authors for early sharing were:

  1. Faster communication of research findings (43%) and early feedback (32%)
  2. No financial cost (41%)
  3. Increased research output by being able to share ahead of peer review (27%)

But what is interesting, is that whilst early sharing came out as important for authors, it is not their only driving motivator when using and selecting such services and adopting more open research practices. Authors are looking for more integrated services and want those platforms to offer multiple features that not only enhance the sharing, development and discoverability of their work, but also enable them to track and monitor its progress:   

  • Transparency was the top feature for authors when selecting an integrated preprint service:
    • 71% of authors said that greater transparency of the peer review process at journals was useful. Through its integration with peer review, In Review enables authors to see specific details of peer review and track their article, providing a high level of transparency into an often 'hidden' process.
    • 50% of authors said that the more transparent the service was, the more they felt it was credible, as it enabled greater accountability for the journal
  • Integrated early sharing - authors surveyed stated that ease of use (69%) and being able to share their manuscript as a preprint at the same time as submitting it to a journal (BMC/ Springer journals) (83%) had an impact on where they choose to take their work.   We also learnt that this type of integrated solution is attractive for researchers in LMICs and early career researchers.

Of those surveyed, 47% of users were first time preprinters (with a large proportion being early career researchers, or coming from LMIC countries) – suggesting that publishers' roles in fostering and integrating open practices, via integrated services such as In Review, has significant impact on encouraging adoption of early sharing and could provide a model to be replicated to encourage the adoption of other kinds of open practices.

The insights are clear. Whilst we as a community have a long way to travel in terms of supporting the take up of open research practices, publishers have a powerful role to play in motivating, facilitating and shifting norms by offering integrated solutions. Given the benefits of early sharing, and the recognition of the enormous pressures and challenges confronting researchers, we see our role as publisher to be one of active engagement and collaboration to better enable and support authors in openly share their work to support discussion and the growth of open research – and make it simple for them to do so. We continue to work collaboratively to take action and are committed to working with researchers through solutions such as In Review and continue to develop a suite of research solutions to better support a more open workflow.

With many thanks to Greg Goodey, Senior Research Analyst, Springer Nature for survey and analysis. 

Other key findings from the survey showed: 

  1. Senior researchers, particularly those within the physical sciences, are most likely to post a preprint
  2. The highest percentage of preprint sharing is currently coming from North America and Europe (59%/ 53% respectively)
  3. 73% of early career researchers see preprints as a positive way forward for the publishing sector and development of research.

1. Developed in partnership with Research Square, In Review is integrated with peer review systems so not only supports early sharing of a preprint of a manuscript under review, it also gives researchers real time insight into the progress on peer review, a level of transparency not afforded by most systems.

A version of this article was also published in the Summer edition of Research Information

Sowmya Swaminathan

Author: Sowmya Swaminathan

Dr. Sowmya Swaminathan is Director, External DEI, Research at Springer Nature and a member of Springer Nature’s DEI Council. She leads Springer Nature’s efforts to bring a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens to research publishing activities across the journals and books publishing programme. She was previously Head of Editorial Policy & Research Integrity for Nature Portfolio where she was responsible for policies and initiatives that advance transparency, integrity, open research practices and inclusion in scholarly publishing. She began her career in scholarly publishing as an editor at Nature Cell Biology where she subsequently served as Chief Editor for 6 years. Prior to entering scholarly publishing, Sowmya completed her PhD at the University of Chicago and carried out postdoctoral training at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried, Germany.

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