In the terminology for a peer-reviewed publication to be submitted to a reputable scientific journal, what are the differences and characteristic properties of the following?

  • draft
  • manuscript
  • preprint
  • paper
  • article

My own take on it would be that my text is a draft until I submit it to a journal, at which point it becomes a manuscript. When the manuscript is accepted it becomes a preprint, and when it gets published it becomes a paper, which is synonymous to article.

Would that be an accurate summary? Would anyone have corrections or additions?


5 Answers 5

  • paper = article: In the academic meaning of the words, papers and articles refer to the same thing: a published piece of writing. The term is used for journal papers or journal articles, which means they have been published by a journal, but also for less traditional publications, including self-publication (“Dr. Who just published a great paper on the intricacies of time travel on his webpage”) and e-print repositories such as arXiv (“check out the latest paper by Galileo on arXiv, that guy has mad ideas!”).

    Some journals have different categories of “articles”, and differentiate between letters, communications, reports, reviews, and full papers (sometimes abbreviated as just “papers”). In usage I have seen, paper (or article) used as a generic term covers all of those: you would say, for example, that “letters and full papers are two types of articles”.

  • A preprint (more commonly used without the hyphen) refers to the distribution, in advance of formal publication, of something that will be published in print. The preprint may differ from the final publication.

    Preprint status does not always indicate that the work has been formally accepted for publication. It just means the authors intend to publish it in a more formal venue (journal, book, etc.) but wanted to distribute by other means beforehand (preprints used to be distributed to colleagues as photocopies, but are now mostly circulated by email or repositories).

  • A manuscript is, in the New Oxford American Dictionary's words, “an author's text that has not yet been published”. Any piece of writing that you have not published in any way (but intend to) is a manuscript.

  • A draft is the same as a manuscript, except that it insists on the unfinished state of the manuscript.

Summarizing, I could say:

Here's the draft I've been working on, please amend it with your corrections. Once we have done this final round of revision, I will upload the manuscript to the editor's website, and we can start circulating it as a preprint to colleagues whom you think may be interested. Once it is accepted and published, we'll just send them the published version of the paper for their records.

  • 9
    These rules sound really weird to me. I describe any written result as a paper regardless of its publication or submission status. ("Are you planning to submit your TSP paper to FOCS?" "No, it still needs some more work.") Similarly, a preprint is a paper that is available but not in final published form, again regardless of submission or publication status. For example, all papers on arXiv are preprints, but not all arXiv preprints have been submitted for publication. In my opinion, the only word in this category with a restricted definition is publication.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 16:54
  • @JeffE I believe there is some confusion on what a “preprint” is, so I listed the term as it is used by notable sources (Nature policy, SHERPA RoMEO, etc.). Of particular note: while arXiv is sometimes called a “preprint server”, it calls itself an “e-print server”
    – F'x
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 17:01
  • While I am not a mother-tongue English speaker, I've occasionally had the impression that paper and article, while being synonyms, have slightly different connotations. One tends to say "paper" for an own result, or one that they feels closer/related to, and "article" for "something you read in a journal, but you have no personal interest in". Is it the case? Or is it only a wrong impression created by talking too much with other non-native speakers? Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:39
  • 2
    -1 This might vary between fields, but the word "paper" is certainly used for unpublished writeups, including the editors of the top journals in my field (economics). Working papers are papers too. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 9:31
  • I guess this is field-dependent, since other commenters report different usages, but my understanding of paper (from pure maths/logic) definitely agrees with this answer: to me, paper implies published status just as strongly as article does.
    – PLL
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 16:51

In French, paper is definitely informal, while article is the term to be used in a written document.

However, in English I feel that we tend to use

  • "journal article" more often that "journal paper",
  • "conference article" less than "conference paper",
  • "workshop article" far less often than "workshop paper".

So paper might tend to designate a piece of work of lesser importance than article, or as jakebeal said have a more general use. It still sounds slightly more informal to me, probably because I am a French native speaker, but I'm pretty sure many French colleagues of mine have the same feeling even if they work in some English-speaking country.

My field computer science > machine learning, in case the terminology changes from field to field, and my location is the US.

Some statistics (obviously biased by the corpus):

Journal paper vs. journal article:

enter image description here

Conference paper vs. conference article:

enter image description here

Workshop paper vs. workshop article:

enter image description here

  • @FranckDernoncourt In the last plot, what's the difference between three lines? They are all workshop papers.
    – enthu
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 16:40
  • 1
    @EnthusiasticStudent Different cases: in the Ngram Viewer when you only plot 1 ngram with case-insensitive mode on, it will plot different cases separately. Since not enough occurrences of "workshop article" were found, the query "workshop paper, workshop article" was regarded as plotting only 1 ngram, not 2. Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 17:03
  • What about "newspaper article", or "student newspaper article" are these of less value then a conference paper?
    – Ian
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 18:16
  • 3
    Since you mention French, a quick note about Italian: the formal word is articolo; there is no Italian word with the same root as "paper", but people in academia often use informally the humorous Italianization papero, which literally means "duck". So it has a more informal connotation, too. And one often gets weird looks from non-academics when using it in their presence. Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 20:20
  • Is it OK with you if I merge this answer into the duplicate (i.e., it will appear as an answer to this post with a note indicating that it was merged to explain why it only partially addresses that question.) Since the other post is the 'canonical' one that we point people to when they ask similar questions, I think it would be a shame not to have this answer there.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 12, 2014 at 7:43

I think that a piece of writing during the pre-submission stage is a draft and during the post-acceptance, but pre-publication, stage is a preprint. I think that this agrees with your terminology.

Many journals publish original research findings under a number of categories including articles, letters, and reports and in some fields books are the predominant mode of publishing research. Therefore, I would say that a preprint does not necessarily become a paper/article when published and instead becomes whatever it is.

Defining a manuscript is the hardest for me. I have often seen acknowledgements which thank someone for reading a previous version of the manuscript. This happens frequently enough in my field that I believe that a piece of writing becomes a manuscript prior to submission to a publisher. I am not sure when a piece of writing becomes a manuscript. I think a piece of writing becomes a manuscript when the first complete draft is completed.


An "article" typically specifically means a paper in a journal, while "paper" is a more general term that also includes conferences, technical memos, etc.

  • I would add that other accompanying words often clarify the meaning. For instance a "published paper" nearly always means a journal article, while a "conference paper" may mean something that was just a presentation with no actual written article. In some cases, an "article" can also mean a publication in a non-academic venue (e.g., Scientific American, The New Yorker), in which case it may also be qualified (as "article in the popular press" or the like).
    – BrenBarn
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 20:18
  • 2
    @BrenBarn This is very field dependent. In computer science, for example, conference papers are often stiffly peer reviewed and quite clearly count as a "published paper."
    – jakebeal
    Commented Oct 18, 2014 at 20:24

I would consider a preprint is the read-proof document that some Journals allow the author to distribute under some rules. So it is in post-acceptance but pre-publication stage. I don´t think the draft-manuscript-paper distinctions are relevant.

  • 4
    No, this is definite not what the term preprint usually refers to. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 17:52

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