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Pre-emptive bids are easy to make, but to make a good one is difficult as it depends on many factors.
The principle is to be disruptive to the opponents and explicit to your partner.
Table position is important in position 3 when partner has passed you do not have to worry about missing game and you can be very disruptive. In position 2 you need to be constructive as your side may have game. In position 1 the odds are that the opposition will have game so your pre-empt should be agressive.
Here is a good introductory article from Bernard Magee on Pre-empt principles
Here is a great EBU article from Brian Senior
For a lot more detail this series by Andrew Gumperz is very good.
Most Damaging Pre-empts 1
Most Damaging Pre-empts 2
Most Damaging Pre-empts 3
Most Damaging Pre-empts 4
Most Damaging Pre-empts 5
Most Damaging Pre-empts 6
Most Damaging Pre-empts 7
The principles are also valid to weak 2s and weak jump overcalls.
As always it is important to agree with your partner the meaning of your bids at positions 1, 2 and 3.