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I'm from a social scientific field, so pre-prints are just becoming more and more "normal." Therefore, I'm a little in the dark regarding certain things. I'm planning to publish a pre-print of one of my manuscripts before sending it out to a journal. I tried finding answers to my questions, but they were pretty much vague or never to be found:

  1. If I publish a pre-print and then I send it out to a journal, wouldn't the reviewers know my (and my co-authors) identity? Assuming they have read the pre-print by some other means or accidentally come across it. [please note that in our field, double blind-review is still the norm].
  2. If my journal article is published, can I update the pre-print version with the updates that were made during the peer review?
  3. Would the journal consider my pre-print as something that has "already been published"?
  4. It is my understanding that I would be able to link my pre-print with the journal article once it is published. In that case, what would people likely cite: the article or the pre-print?
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  • You can always send a presubmission inquiry to the editor.
    – henning
    Jun 27, 2023 at 20:43
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    In other fields like maths, physics, computer science etc there is no secrecy. And preprints are just normal. Not sure why this is practised in social sciences. Jun 28, 2023 at 13:40

3 Answers 3

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I think that most journals use only "single-blind" reviewing in which the author doesn't know the reviewer(s), but the reviewers have the author's name and affiliation. In such a case, pre-prints are no problem.

For those journals that use double-blind reviews it can be an issue. Reviewers can't be expected to avoid reading new work in their field, even if it is only available on pre-print servers. But some journals, not necessarily the same ones, won't accept a paper submission if it has appeared previously in any form, including a pre-print.

So, know the journal you want to submit to and act accordingly. If you expect double blind, then it isn't a good idea to "publish" prior to submission.

For the citation issue, it is hard to predict. People probably prefer to cite the official version, but may not want to pay for access, in which case they might cite the pre-print. Academics usually have ways to avoid paying (library access...), but sometimes just do the easiest thing.

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    I fear double-blind is the norm in the social sciences.
    – henning
    Jun 27, 2023 at 20:42
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    I would have phrased this the other way round: In fields like maths and physics where posting pre-prints on arxiv is the norm, it is also the norm that peer-reviews are only single-blind so in these fields there is no conflict. In social science double blind is the norm and so the issue arises.
    – quarague
    Jun 28, 2023 at 9:56
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If your submission is easily discoverable, through pre-print or because it’s somehow publicly available, then indeed referees could infer the names and affiliations of the authors. That’s the “risk” you take, against the benefits of staking your claim and possibly getting some pre-submission comments.

On arXiv, it is possible (and even recommended) to update submissions. In particular, it is possible to include details of the journal version (journal name, doi etc) as stand-alone or as part of an update. I don’t see a good reason not to update, but different sites may have different update policies.

Preprints are not usually considered publications as they are not peer-reviewed, unless preprints are posted on a site that will have some sort of copyright restrictions. I don’t know of such sites with restrictions and posting there would defeat the purpose of producing “preprints”. Some journals (Nature for one) frown upon pre-publications as they feel it decreases novelty, and might not accept submissions already posted on preprint servers; such journals are the exception rather than the rule.

People can choose to cite both preprint and journal versions, sometimes one and not the other. Good journals often ask authors to update citations to journal articles rather than preprints.

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  • Sherpa/Romeo is a useful resource about the open access and preprint policies of several journals. Here's the record for the American Political Science Review, for example: sherpa.ac.uk/id/publication/1408 If you follow the link in the record, the most important clause reads "After the final version of the work is published, the preprint can still be shared and used under its original licence terms."
    – henning
    Jun 28, 2023 at 9:36
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    "Preprints are not usually considered publications as they are not peer-reviewed, unless preprints are posted on a site that will have some sort of copyright restrictions." I don't see why copyright restriction makes something a "publication", nor do I understand the view that most pre-prints have no copyright restrictions - almost any pre-print will be released under some license spelling out copyright restrictions. Finally, you have Nature's stance exactly backwards - from their submission guidelines: "Nature Portfolio journals encourage posting of preprints of primary research manuscripts". Jun 28, 2023 at 14:46
  • @NuclearHoagie my experience with Nature is that their position is a posteriori, i.e they don't like preprints before they themselves publish the paper (at least that was their line 3 years ago). Given the open-access policy of many funding agencies, Nature cannot be against submission to a preprint server, as a version there serves as a de facto open-access version. Jun 28, 2023 at 15:20
  • Copyright restrictions do not make anything a publication but in order to publish you must transfer the copyrights (as author) to the publisher, and I don't know how you can do this if one submits to a preprint server that does not allow you to eventually transfer copyrights. Admittedly I don't know of any instance of this. Jun 28, 2023 at 15:21
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Regarding 1 and 3: the best way to be sure is to directly ask the editors of the journal if a submission would be compatible with the existence of a preprint. Different journals will have different policies. Note that double-blind peer review is not necessarily incompatible with a preprint: some venues (eg NeurIPS, a leading conference in machine learning) uses double-blind peer review, encourages authors to submit a preprint, and discourages reviewers to check them.

Regarding 2 and 4: most preprint servers indicate if a preprint is now available as a published paper (see for instance on bioRxiv) and will provide a link to it.

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