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Early Sharing: Should You Take the Plunge?

What does early sharing accomplish?

Scientific discovery is a process of continuous vetting and refinement. While immediate access to the latest findings allows for accelerated discoveries, sharing early and transparently also results in more checkpoints throughout the research process for communities to provide feedback. The need for effective and time-sensitive global collaboration has been further emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adopting early sharing practices helps ensure your research is available as soon as it’s needed, regardless of your field. 

Early sharing allows for the latest research to be connected without waiting for the final publication. Whether it’s through a preprint, open data set, or accessible protocol, researchers are empowered to cite the latest discoveries in their current research. Learning how and when researchers have adopted early sharing is the first step to contributing to this global movement. 

Sharing Before the Study Takes Place

The research question being pursued and the resulting study design create the foundation of a research project. These core elements are often internally reviewed to ensure the resulting study is as sound and focused as possible, but the greater research community typically doesn’t see the methodology of a study until the results and conclusions are published. By preregistering your study protocol early, you enable broader research assessment to begin at the foundation of a study. The study design itself goes through peer review so that potential improvements or flaws are detected before the study actually takes place. When the final research article is ready to be assessed, editors can consider the study’s rigor and adherence to the study design.   

To help ensure a study follows the highest standards and has long-term reproducibility, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology both offer preregistration options. Preregistration can help reduce confirmation bias of editors and reviewers by confirming the underlying validity of your research. Additionally, having your protocol published allows others to pursue your study, or to tweak your design to fit their available resources. 

Sharing Initial Findings

Earlier this year, PLOS Biology announced two new linked articles types: Discovery Reports and Update Articles. To alleviate the pressure of having to wait for a fully formed story to develop, Discovery Articles give researchers the flexibility to publish novel initial findings and as a first step. Once the Discovery Report is published, both the original authors and other research groups can augment the initial report by submitting Update Articles for review. 

As multiple Update Articles can be linked to a single Discovery Report, your initial finding can spring into a series of interconnected advancements. 

Sharing Before Publication

Preprints provide a platform for open, public review that is independent from a journal and doesn’t depend on an invitation from the editor. While the original preprint can be viewed and cited prior to publication, the preprint can be updated as the manuscript is revised to ensure the most recent version of your paper is always available. 

PLOS makes the interaction between preprint servers and our journals as simple as possible. You can directly submit your preprint to our journals from medRxiv and bioRxiv, or you can include the DOI of your preprint on the submission form if you used a different server. For those in other subjects, there is an ever-growing collection of active preprint servers. Alternatively, authors of life science articles can opt-in to have the paper uploaded to bioRxiv during submission, without any additional work. Our editors are encouraged to consider comments left on a preprint, allowing for the open review platform that preprints provide to potentially accelerate and deepen the review process. 

That said, open and accessible data sets are another opportunity to collaborate among far-spanning researchers. Recent research has shown that publications that link to data in a repository are cited more frequently on average. As many researchers around the world don’t have access to the infrastructure required to generate their own data sets, making your data available without restrictions is an easy way to ensure your research is maximizing its contribution and usefulness. 

Early sharing opens up opportunities throughout the research process to share study designs, initial findings, and data at a global scale. Involve your communities with early sharing practices so that vetting happens throughout the research process, ultimately improving the credibility of your final research output.

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