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Referencing and Citation

How to Cite Preprints Correctly


Amy Clark, Associate Editor

November 2020

As open access to scientific research continues to widen, journals have eased their policies regarding preprints, now allowing authors to submit manuscripts that have been posted as preprints and allowing preprints to be cited in reference lists of submitted articles. The key is transparency. If you submit a manuscript that is available as a preprint, indicate that in your cover letter. If you cite material from a preprint, clearly indicate the reference as “Preprint.”

What is a preprint?

A preprint is a scholarly manuscript that is made publicly and freely available online via a preprint server prior to formal peer review or acceptance by an academic journal. Preprints enable rapid dissemination of research and increase the visibility of both the researcher and the work.

What is a preprint server?

A preprint server is a platform that hosts preprint articles. In recent years, preprint servers for most subjects in the sciences have been established and developed. Some examples are bioRxiv (biology), chemrxiv (chemistry), SSRN (Social Science Research Network), and MedRxiv (health sciences).

For more details about preprint servers, read the LetPub article “What are preprint servers and what is their role in scholarly publishing?”

How should I cite a preprint in a journal article reference list?

Preprints are part of the permanent public record, and they are given a unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI), just as is given to published journal articles.

A reference citation for a preprint should include the following items:

1. Author name(s)
2. Title
3. Name of the preprint server
4. Object type, that is, Preprint
5. Date of most recent version posted
6. Date accessed
7. DOI

On most preprint servers, you can find the information you need for the citation by clicking on the appropriate tab or button on the first page of the article itself. For example, on the chemrxiv server, clicking on the red “Cite” tab on an article’s page brings up information such as the example below:

Fujii, Takeo; Toyoura, Kazuaki; Uda, Tetsuya; Kasamatsu, Shusuke (2020): Theoretical Study on Proton Diffusivity in Y-Doped BaZrO3 with Realistic Dopant Configurations. ChemRxiv. Preprint.

Version 2 Preprint revised on 06.11.2020, 01:54 and posted on 06.11.2020, 07:42 by Takeo Fujii, Kazuaki Toyoura, Tetsuya Uda, Shusuke Kasamatsu

You will need to format this information according to the reference style you are using in your article, making sure to add the version date and your date of access. For example, the reference might look like this:

Fujii T, Toyoura K, Uda, T, Kasamatsu, S. Theoretical Study on Proton Diffusivity in Y-Doped BaZrO3 with Realistic Dopant Configurations. ChemRxiv. [Preprint.] June 11, 2020 [accessed 2020 August 14]. Available from:

How should I cite a preprint within the text?

An in-text citation for a preprint will be numbered if you are using a numbered style or parenthetical if you are using a non-numbered style. Either way, it is a good idea to indicate that the cited material is from a preprint, as in the examples below:

Numbered style: As reported by Fujii et al. (Preprint) [12], …

Name–Date style: As reported by Fujii et al. (2020, Preprint), …

A note of caution: Although most journals will allow preprint references, some still may not. Before finalizing and submitting your manuscript, be sure to consult the Author Guidelines posted on your target journal’s website for the journal’s policy concerning referencing preprints.

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