I am currently writing a review paper (for the first time) on an emerging topic, and the problem is that almost all the sources that I found regarding this topic are preprints on arxiv.

I wanted to know if citing them in the review paper is okay or not.

This paper is going to be a chapter in my thesis later on.

  • 3
    What do you mean "including"? Mentioning, quoting, and citing, I hope.
    – Buffy
    Mar 28, 2023 at 20:32
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    @Buffy my suspicion is that OP is simply asking if they can cite pre-prints. If this is the case, I think it's fine but best to avoid whenever possible (coming from a computer science background).
    – jtb
    Mar 28, 2023 at 20:51
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    @Buffy, I am sorry for not being clear, but I meant it as in citing and including them as part of the papers that are going into the review.
    – CyberSham
    Mar 29, 2023 at 1:05
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    I do not know about "okay". However, for some topics, considering "published" means the work is at least 1 or 2 year old, I would say that a review including pre-prints has a higher chance of giving a good idea of the actual state of the art. At least pre-prints can/should be included as evidence about where the field is now heading and the variety of directions being undertaken (rather than as sources of well-established knowledge). Mar 29, 2023 at 14:36
  • 1
    Have you had a chance to peer review any conference or journal submissions yet? If so, then read the pre-prints yourself, make a judgement call on the quality of the research, let the authors know about any potential issues, and cite the paper if you think it is good science. As a scientist, you are now among the ranks of arbiters of what counts as science and what is just junk.
    – Him
    Mar 31, 2023 at 3:41

4 Answers 4


Your goal is to provide your reader with an overview of where the field currently stands. "The field" is defined by what people have done, and that includes not only publications that have already gone through peer review, but also those that have not yet, and that consequently are only available as preprints. As such, it makes sense to include these papers, though you have to pay attention that possibly not everything you can find on arXiv has the same quality as what you can find in the peer reviewed literature: You have to make a judgment call on each preprint yourself.

  • 8
    And there is always the possibility to add a sentence along the lines of "At the time of writing, the research of A. et al, B. et al. and C. et al. has only been published on a preprint server." so readers of the review will know that these sources might not have been properly peer reviewed yet.
    – Sursula
    Mar 29, 2023 at 7:09
  • 2
    @Sursula is the relevant attribute "published on a preprint server" or is it rather "has not completed peer review"?
    – user253751
    Mar 30, 2023 at 9:35
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    @user253751 Sursula's attribute was "only published on a preprint server". The "only" is the important part. Mar 30, 2023 at 20:47

There are journals that don't let you cite unpublished materials in review article submissions. Others won't have an issue with it. So do read the author guidelines for wherever you intend to submit.

  • 1
    Do they specify that preprints don't count as published? I can understand not wanting to cite resources that are unavailable.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 30, 2023 at 8:16
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    Personally I would recommend going the other way. Write the best work you can. Then see where you can get it published. Seems quite stupid to leave out important works because some journal has stupid author guidelines.
    – Kvothe
    Mar 30, 2023 at 12:10
  • Do they forbid "personal communication" too? Mar 31, 2023 at 10:58

If you use something you need to cite it. It doesn't really matter whether it was "formally" published or a preprint. It should be clear from the citation where it appeared, say on arXiv.

If you need to quote something be formal (punctuation). If you paraphrase make it clear that you do so and cite as well.

But, as you prepare your review, watch out to see if your sources appear in a more formal way and adjust if necessary. It is preferable to cite from a formal publication as it is less likely to change or disappear.

But, yes, it is OK. Probably necessary.

  • 1
    Disagree, citing a open access preprint is much better then citing anything behind a paywall. Think of what's best for most reader who don't have someone else to fund them.
    – Ian
    Mar 30, 2023 at 19:13
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    @Ian, but the "official" publication is possibly more accurate and complete than a preprint. They aren't always the same. The published article has been through review and the preprint may not have been. Accurate sources are better than cheap ones, actually.
    – Buffy
    Mar 30, 2023 at 19:36
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    If we just say ''accessible is always better'' then we start running into problems, what needs to be done is make peer-reviewed research articles much more accessible for everyone.
    – Tom
    Mar 30, 2023 at 20:19
  • @Ian If a preprint exists for a journal article, any moderately intelligent student without institutional access to the article will be able to find it.
    – Karl
    Mar 31, 2023 at 18:18

This is significantly field-dependent.

In many fields, including my own (mathematics/theoretical CS) citing preprints is very standard, for all the good reasons described in other current answers and their comments.

However, there are other fields — e.g. medicine and biology — where citing un-peer-reviewed work is rare, and generally viewed as bad practice except in exceptional circumstances. (Caveat: my knowledge here is second-hand, based on what I’ve been told by colleagues who work in those fields.) And it’s not hard to see the reasoning behind this: in maths, if you rely on an under-scrutinised study and it turns out to be flawed, no great harm is done; but in medicine, it could have very serious consequences. So the relative weighting of the principles “use all available information” and “guard the literature against contamination by bad work” is different.

So in sum, you should know and follow the norms of your specific (sub-)field — read what other comparable papers do, and follow that. (Or, if you find you disagree with your field’s current norms, you can of course choose not to follow them; but be aware of what issues this may cause with e.g. journal publication, and bear in mind also Chesterton’s fence.)

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