When writing a research paper, findings are often published before the final version of record has been completed. Researchers might publish preprints or an accepted manuscript to give other researchers access to new research ahead of time. As there are many key differences between a preprint, accepted manuscript and version of record, we conducted a study, in collaboration with ResearchGate, to find out to what extent article version matters to researchers. We also explored the question, if the version of record (VOR) offers significantly more value to them, to the extent that it would impact the way a researcher might discover, read or share a research output.
We started by assessing the usage of Springer Nature content syndicated to the ResearchGate platform, followed by a user survey. The results were published in our latest white paper Exploring researcher preference for the version of record, written in collaboration with ResearchGate, which explores researcher preference for the VOR, compared to other article versions such as the accepted manuscript (AM) or preprints.
The study found overwhelming evidence, that researchers prefer the VOR both for general reading and for research and see it as the most authoritative and credible source. Where multiple versions of Open Access (OA) articles were available, the majority of researchers chose the VOR. Where the article was OA, and therefore accessible to all readers, use of the VOR was highest, with fewer than 5% accessing earlier versions of the article. Researchers also preferred reading and citing of VOR compared to AM or preprint. A total of 83% of respondents said they preferred working with the VOR for citing content in their own work, compared with 9% preferring AMs, and 2% preferring preprints.
Furthermore, we found that researchers believe the VOR is easier to read and is more reliable. In open text answers, respondents commented on the reassurance that peer review and proof of publication give to the VOR, pointing to the lack of time researchers have to read a large volume of content, and the desire to quickly assess and cite an article. Compared to earlier versions, researchers highlight value added to the VOR through the publication process, including copy editing and typesetting, the inclusion of figures and links to data, and the continued maintenance of the VOR after publication (e.g. corrections).
Researchers show strong preference for the VOR, due to the need to access an easily navigable, reliable and trusted source of the scientific record and to ensure they base their research on the authoritative, most up-to-date, and complete version of the work. These findings strongly support publishers’ previous assertions that AMs are an inferior, incomplete version and may add confusion to the scientific record.
It also provides evidence of the value of the VOR and immediate gold open access (OA), bringing together both analysis of VOR usage, and feedback from readers and authors via an online questionnaire. The findings support the need to widen the availability of article VORs via the gold OA route as this provides immediate, unrestricted access to the authoritative VOR, and for continued and sustainable funding of gold OA as a critical step towards a fully open research future.