My question is whether preprints continue to exist after the information contained in them gets published in a journal. It would be confusing to have two sources for the same information (the preprint and the official publication), so I am assuming that preprints are taken down by the authors after their work gets published in a Journal. My question also is concerned with their citations. If preprints and peer-reviewed articles exist, I don't know if tools such as Google Scholar are adding the total number of the citations received by both papers (I believe they should, as they are practically the same publication, only with different levels of revisions).

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    A minor revision might result in a preprint being practically the same as the corresponding peer-reviewed paper. A major revision might result in two quite different publications if e.g. central conclusions are revised. – Snijderfrey Jun 13 '20 at 21:30
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    @Snijderfrey I'd expect the online preprint (e.g. on arXiv) to be updated in order to include that major revision - it's not guaranteed, but it's generally done. – Peteris Jun 14 '20 at 15:39
  • Also, note that preprint versions are a great source for quickly getting to a result when on a phone or non-university internet (where access might be restricted to journals). Also, arxiv is invaluable for developing countries where subscriptions to journals is very expensive. – Per Alexandersson Jun 14 '20 at 20:01

In general, preprints continue to remain available even after publication. In fact, on most preprint servers, such as arXiv, it is impossible to completely remove a preprint once submitted, and any updates are stored as new versions. The preprint itself is a form of publication, where you can disseminate results, get feedback, and get a time stamp for your work without waiting for a lengthy peer review process.

Preprints may be cited and used to derive other works before they are published, so it is important to preserve past versions for the references to be coherent, particularly since a paper may be updated several times before publication in a peer-reviewed venue. The preprint version may be more likely to receive corrections and updates after publication, since that is easier than updating the journal version. It may also contain extra supplementary material missing from the published version due to length constraints, and so it is not necessary that the two versions are identical.

Regarding citations, services such as Google Scholar are usually able to interpret several versions of the same paper as a single entry. However, issues with this do exist, and have so far not been satisfactorily resolved.

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    Note that you usually still should cite the published version, because this tells the reader that there was peer review. – allo Jun 14 '20 at 20:57
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    One particularly important update IMHO is that e.g. a preprint in arXiv can be tagged with a reference to the ("official") journal publication. A similar, very useful update of the preprint itself is to give that reference there as well and also to state whether/how the preprint differs from the journal publication – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jun 14 '20 at 21:01

This is a genuine problem with the old-times notion of "publication", that is, in static (peer-reviewed or not) forms.

The so-called "preprint" forms on peoples' home pages or arXiv and such can be updated, corrected, and so on.

The traditional form of citations has the analogous problem, of having been developed gradually in a time when there was no internet, so people couldn't communicate easily themselves, ... couldn't even typeset things themselves. In those times, a "reference" was an utterly fixed, static thing, which would never change... and its deficits were fixed in stone forever, etc.

So it's not a surprise that the old citation concept cannot cope with more dynamic references, locations, and so on. Don't over-think how to cope with such a failure... nor believe that there should be a real "solution" in the old context.

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    Also, if you don't have rights of free access to journals through an institutional library, you may be happy to get a free preprint from arXive or the author's home page. For practical purposes, the preprint may be as useful as the 'official' publication, often hiding behind a 'pay wall'. // In the dark ages (before the Internet--or even photocopy machines) journals often gave a dozen or so 'preprints' or 'reprints' to authors, who could put them in the mail on request to non-subscribers. – BruceET Jun 14 '20 at 6:32

Preprints, in the form of pre-drafts ("preliminary and incomplete"), working papers, under submission versions etc, remain in most cases available online. This is, in my opinion, a good thing, for many reasons.

Influential working papers may remain as such for many years, while gathering hundreds, if not thousands, of citations. My favourite example is a very extensive, heavily methodological piece that was put online in 2002 and got an official reference in 2009, as a book chapter. If the old version was removed, the old citations might not be tractable.

It can be both useful and interesting to track the evolution of a draft. Sometimes, interesting footnotes, quotes or even sub-sections are not in the published paper (e.g. after following reviewer recommendations) but can still be useful to someone else. The same holds for changes, mistakes etc.

EDIT - I forgot the most important point, mentioned by @BruceET : a publicly available copy, almost identical to the published work, that is not behind a paywall. This is by far the best reason.

I am not aware of a working paper being updated after the work is published, but it might contain more detailed tables, appendices etc.

  • Indeed, the continued existence of a publicly available copy with essentially the same content is often required by funding agencies. – Especially Lime Jun 15 '20 at 11:42

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