The discussion section contains the results and outcomes of a study. An effective discussion informs readers what can be learned from your…
From preregistration, to preprints, to publication—learn how and when to share your study
When should you start to share results, and what are the best formats? Are there advantages or risks associated with sharing early or late?
Publishing your study
A published, peer-reviewed research article is the primary way that scientists communicate the results of their investigations. Once formally published in a journal, your article is indexed and archived, becoming a permanent part of the scientific record.
Tip: Choosing where to submit
There are many considerations to weigh when choosing where to submit your research. Consult our guide to choosing the journal that’s right for you.
The benefits to sharing more, sooner
There is much more to conducting research than can be conveyed in a traditional research article. Through Open Science practices like sharing detailed protocols and methods, data and code, sharing work early with preprints, and publishing peer reviews, researchers can communicate their science more fully.
There are four main arguments in favor of sharing research prior to publication, and making more of the background and supporting materials available alongside published articles.
- Accelerating discovery – when new information is available to the research community earlier, other scientists can begin iterating on and incorporating it into their work sooner. That helps knowledge progress more quickly.
- Reproducibility – making supporting materials and background information available alongside a published article ensures that the work can be reproduced and reanalyzed.
- Demonstrated validity – sharing the data and documentation behind the research article is also a statement of confidence on the part of the researchers, a way of standing behind the work and asserting its quality.
- Credit – publishing research articles is seen as the capstone of a scientific study…but there’s so much more that goes into each discovery, from research design and collecting and analyzing data to writing a peer review or serving as an editor. When more of the scientific process becomes public, researchers get academic credit for the work they do behind the scenes.
The many other ways to share your science
A published, peer-reviewed research article is the gold standard in scientific communications—but there are many different ways to communicate your research. Here are some of the methods researchers are choosing to communicate their work beyond publication.
Preregistered study design protocols can be deposited with a registration service or submitted to a journal prior to conducting the investigation.
Preprints can be posted in databases like bioRxiv prior to peer review and formal publication in a journal.
Data & code can be entered into repositories, where other researchers can reference your results, conduct re-analyses or meta-analyses, or replicate and validate your work.
Peer reviews and your responses can be published alongside journal articles, demonstrating the validity of your research and giving readers access to more expert opinions and a deeper understanding of the work.
When not to share early
There are cases when sharing results prior to peer review can be dangerous. Some examples include:
- Medical research that might include identifying personal information about a patient
- Research with implications for public health
- Dual use research of concern
Common concerns answered
I am concerned that other publishers won’t consider a paper that’s already been posted as a preprint.
Preprints have taken hold in some research areas more than others. Today, most top-tier biomedical journals happily consider submissions with preprints. In fact, more than 40 major publishers have policies welcoming preprints in all subject areas, including all journals under the umbrellas of: BMJ, Sage, Elsevier (including Cell and The Lancet), Springer (including the Nature and BMC journals), Taylor & Francis, Wiley, and of course, PLOS. Lots of major society publishers also consider preprinted submissions.
There are some notable exceptions though: certain medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA network journals will not consider preprints.
Our advice: if you have your eye on a particular journal, check their website for guidelines—especially if you’re in a medical field. Wikipedia also offers a nice list of preprint-compatible publishers.
I’m concerned that another research group might scoop my study if I make protocols or preprints public too soon.
Depositing your protocol in a database doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be made public immediately. Using the Center for Open Science, you have the option to keep the protocol private until your final article is published.
With that said, both preprints and protocols can be used to establish priority, staking your claim earlier in the research process. And if you’re publishing with PLOS, all of our selective journals offer six months of scooping protection under our complimentary research policy.
Our advice: protocols and preprints can both be used to time-stamp your discoveries and showcase your most current work for review boards and tenure committees—but they’re just options. Do what makes you most comfortable.
Questions? Share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.