How do you keep up to date on the literature in your field? If you rely exclusively on PubMed alerts, you might be missing out on the very freshest science: preprints, which are manuscripts that have yet to undergo journal peer review. Since PubMed is only for peer-reviewed literature, we have to find them elsewhere.
While preprints are still a relatively new phenomenon in biology, there are currently several servers that host them, the most significant being bioRxiv, PeerJ Preprints, and the quantitative biology section of arXiv. A few preprints can also be found in other places like figshare and SJS. And while it’s not strictly a preprint server, F1000Research’s articles awaiting peer review are also worth keeping an eye on.
You could search each of these sites independently, a task that will only become more and more burdensome if new preprint servers emerge. Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Several free search tools currently index biomedical preprints: Google Scholar, PrePubMed (no affiliation with PubMed), and search.bioPreprint. You can also use some of these services to let relevant preprints come to you by setting up email alerts. Here’s how:
Keep Track Of All Literature with Google Scholar Alerts
Google Scholar is fantastic for keeping track of all scientific literature—it indexes both preprints and journals. Since the majority of articles don’t appear as preprints, this might be a good one-stop-shopping experience if you’re looking to keep tabs on a particular keyword or author.
- From the homepage,
- Click “Alerts” (next to the mail icon at top of screen)
- Click “Create Alert” (large button)
- Enter a simple keyword, or a more complex search using search operators (here is a useful guide).
- Enter your email and click “Create Alert.”
While you can perform an advanced search with Google Scholar that focuses just on preprint servers (click the downward facing arrow in the search text box and add this string to the “published in” field: bioRxiv OR “PeerJ Preprints” OR f1000Research OR arxiv), as far as I know it doesn’t seem possible to create an alert from an advanced search. Don’t worry—there’s another solution.
Watch Preprints Only with PrePubMed’s RSS Feed
Maybe you already have an extensive system of PubMed alerts set up, or perhaps you want to pay special attention to work that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.
- Enter your search terms in the box on this page (for tips on constructing a search query, see the FAQ)
- Click the “Generate RSS” button
- Copy and paste the url of the page that appears into your feed reader app of choice, or use a service (like this one) to deliver the RSS feed to your email. You could also share your feed by linking it to a Twitter account.
Have another way of keeping track of preprints? Please share it in the comments below!
Disclosure: I’m a co-organizer of ASAPbio, a researcher-driven initiative to promote the use of preprints in biology. Thanks to Prachee Avasthi for the twitterfeed.com tip!
About the Author:
Jessica Polka is director of ASAPbio, a biologist-driven nonprofit working to improve life sciences communication. She is also a visiting scholar at the Whitehead Institute and a member of ASCB's public policy committee.
Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.