Should journal clubs review preprints?

by Katie McLean on 2021-11-22T08:30:00-04:00 | Comments

In a previous post, we discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has created a global need to share emerging scientific research. This has resulted in a surge of preprint articles being published.

Preprints are completed manuscripts that are freely available, often through an online repository, prior to formal peer review or publication in a scholarly journal.

Preprints have their own Digital Object Identifier (DOI). This means that the same work will get a new DOI if and when it goes through the traditional publication process. For example, this preprint was added to the preprint server medRxiv in April, 2021. After it was peer reviewed, it was published in August, 2021 in Frontiers in Neuroscience with this new DOI.

Preprints are easy to access because of their inherent openness—the intention is to make the manuscript available online and at no cost for immediate feedback. A preprint must not be considered an easier option for access to the work when the peer-reviewed version is later published behind a paywall.

Given the informal nature of preprints, should journal clubs consider reviewing them?

Reviewing a preprint for a journal club can result in a number of benefits for both the club and the research community, as long as club members are aware that they are reviewing a manuscript that has not been through the traditional publishing process (Casadevall & Gow, 2018). A preprint must not be used as the sole source to guide journalism or clinical practice because the work may:

  • Change if the preprint is updated
  • Be published in another form after formal peer review
  • Be redacted or withdrawn if methods or findings are found to be lacking

Make preprint review a part of your journal club

Reviewing preprints in a journal club can provide an opportunity for members to learn more about the publishing process. Club members may consider the following activities:

Benefit the research community

Understanding the nature and value of preprints and participating in their review can provide opportunities for members of your club to engage more deeply in the research publication process. Who knows, maybe members will go on to be reviewers or authors!

Engaging purposefully with preprints as a journal club, according to Casadevall & Gow (2018), can also help to dispel myths about an article’s quality as perpetuated by the use of impact metrics. Instead, journal club members can focus on the science in their review.

Once you and your journal club are aware of the characteristics of preprints, a work can be reviewed or appraised using standard evaluation tools like critical appraisal checklists such as Critical Appraisal Skills Programme, depending on the methodology used. If your journal club is new to preprints, an easy way to learn more is to book a consultation with a Nova Scotia Health librarian and invite them to a club meeting.


Casadevall, A., & Gow, N. (2018). Using preprints for journal clubs.

Katie McLean

Librarian Educator, Outreach Lead
Dickson Building, Central Zone

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