Response to NIH Request for Information about Preprints and Interim Research Products

Preprints Editorial Office
09 December 2016
Recently, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) put out a call for information about responses about preprints. Below is our response. We very much welcome the NIH's willingness to open dialogue in this area: the potential role of preprints in funding applications and reports is an important area and one we hope similar agencies will also take seriously. Needless to say, we think preprints have a role to play and can bring benefits to funders and authors.

Please contact if you have questions or comments on any of the points below.

Types of interim research products your or your organization create/and or host. is website for the publication of preprints from any discipline. Started in May 2016, it is owned and operated on a non-profit basis by MDPI AG, a Swiss-based open access publisher. At the time of writing (December 2016), over 700 preprints have been announced.

Feedback on what are considered to be interim research products, and how they are used in your field.

Preprints accepts articles from all fields of research if the work presented is scientifically sound and can be considered part of academic literature. In other words, papers that could potentially be published as a research article or comprehensive review. We exclude work that has previously been peer-reviewed and published, and opinion articles. A general definition of interim research products could be broader, including editorial material, opinions, comments, data and single sections of articles (e.g. a description of a protocol).

Insight on how particular types of interim research products might impact the advancement of science.

One of the primary purposes of is to make the dissemination of research more rapid. Preprints appear online within 24 hours of submission, compared to months typically experienced for a research paper. We believe this is provides a significant advancement for author recognition and allowing others to quickly incorporate new knowledge into their own projects.

Feedback on potential citation standards.

Digital object identifiers (DOIs) from CrossRef are a standard method for providing citations to work published online. All preprints at are assigned a DOI and can thus be uniquely cited. The development of a schema specifically for preprints by CrossRef is both a recognition of the importance of interim products in the scholarly literature, and an ideal mechanism by which to standardize citation. Unique citation of preprints should be a priority for any preprint server, whether via DOIs or another mechanism.

Where a preprint offers unique information, data or conclusions that authors deem reasonable and relevant, it should be cited. However, unless the preprint contains unique information distinct from a peer-reviewed version, the peer-reviewed version should be cited where it exists. In other words, preprints should be considered by authors compiling a bibliography, but peer-reviewed work should take precedence. Preprints should also be considered in grant applications and project reports.

Insight on the possible need and potential impact of citing interim products on peer review of NIH applications.

Preprints and other interim products assigned a unique identifier provide a useful mechanism for reporting preliminary and proof-of-principle results and should be considered in NIH applications. They should be treated in the same way as any other non-peer-reviewed material.

Advice on how NIH reviewers might evaluate citations of interim research products in applications

The lack of standardization in the presentation of interim products can cause problems in evaluation. For example, ArXiv needs approval of both authors and papers before they appear online, performs a preliminary editorial check before posting papers, other services do not perform any checks. Best practice guidelines may be helpful and we would recommend that the NIH considers this aspect along with other interested stakeholders.

On the other hand, citations to interim products should be given due consideration. We expect that experienced reviewers will be used to handling non-peer-reviewed material and will be able to exercise due caution in dealing with preliminary data.

Any other relevant information.

We have entered a long-term commitment to operate Preprints as a not-for-profit platform. We may  explore cooperation options with institutions/universities in future to ensure a separation from MDPI’s publishing business.

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