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Preprints and Publishing in the Life and Biomedical Sciences:

a 4-lesson course on preprints, the traditional journal-dependent publication process, and the future of academic publishing


Course authors

Tara Fischer
Gautam Dey
Jonny Coates
Aleksandra Petelski
Vanessa Bortoluzzi
Gilbert Kibet-Rono
Iratxe Puebla


Plinio Casarotto

Christine Cucinotta

ASAPbio Fellows Program

ASAPbio Community


Communicating the work we do as researchers to the scientific community is fundamental to the advancement of science. The traditional mode of communication is through the formal publication of a written manuscript in a scholarly journal that documents the rationale, methods, results, and interpretation of the findings. This process entails 1) the submission of your manuscript to a relevant journal, 2) the decision by Editors at the journal on whether to accept the manuscript for further review by experts in your field (Peer Reviewers), 3) the decision by the Editors, informed by the Peer Reviewers’ recommendations, on whether to accept your manuscript for publication, 4) the preparation of your manuscript for publication, and 5) the final publication and dissemination of your work to the scientific community. Although this process appears straightforward, the length of time it takes can vary from 3 months to years, directly impacting the availability of our work to the scientific community and scientific progress. This delay often means that the scientific literature is up to 6 months behind current research. Moreover, once published, scientific articles are often held behind paywalls preventing many from accessing the work.

One solution to these problems is to make research articles immediately and freely available to the public at the discretion of the scientists are responsible for the scientific work. These types of research articles are termed ‘preprints’; manuscripts that are posted to freely accessible preprint servers prior to formal peer review and publication in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. Preprints are regularly used for physics but have, until recently, been largely unused in the biomedical and life sciences. Although publishing and dissemination of our research is fundamental to our careers as scientists, how the publication process works, how manuscripts are evaluated by editors and peer reviewers at journals, and how scientific communication impacts progress in science is often not discussed or formally taught during scientific training. This course covers how the traditional journal-based publication process works by outlining how a manuscript goes from written by the scientist to published in a journal with an emphasis on integrating preprinting as an important step within the process. The target audiences for this course are trainees at the graduate level, junior postdoctoral researchers, and the general public who are interested in understanding the scientific process. The course content will broadly highlight aspects of the current publication system and how preprinting offers an avenue to accelerate scientific progress.

Course aims

This course covers the publishing pipeline with an emphasis on the role of preprints at each stage. The specific aims are:

Learning Outcomes

Following the completion of this course students should be able to:

  1. Describe the publishing pipeline
  2. Explain the role, and benefits of preprints in scientific publishing
  3. Perform effective and responsible scientific communication

Course Outline

Lesson I: Introduction to the evolving publishing landscape. This lesson covers the history of scientific communication and the traditional publication process. Challenges with the current system and emerging solutions are then discussed as an introduction to the remaining lessons.

Lesson I lesson plan or in Google Drive

Lesson II: Understanding and engaging with preprints. This lesson introduces preprints and their role in the scientific community, including a breakdown and discussion of key concerns. Finally, the lesson covers the components of a preprint and includes a guide on how to post a preprint.

Lesson II lesson plan or in Google Drive

Lesson III: The editorial process and peer review. This lesson details the editorial process at a journal and how preprints fit into that publishing pipeline. This includes the lifecycle of a manuscript, the peer-review process, post-acceptance steps and the advantages of preprint adoption for editors and publishers.

Lesson III lesson plan or in Google Drive

Lesson IV: The communicating scientist: How to effectively and responsibly communicate scientific research. Students will learn about the role of a scientist in scientific communication and the different platforms that can be used. This lesson provides an overview of how to adapt to different platforms and how to communicate preprints, and scientific findings in general, responsibly and effectively.

Lesson IV lesson plan or in Google Drive

Suggested timetable

Each lesson is planned for 1-2 hours and can be administered “workshop” style over 4 subsequent days in one week or 1 day/week over a 4-week period. Alternatively, each lesson can be divided into 30 minute ‘blocks’ for adaptation to shorter course times.

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