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This is related to but not answered in this question about the difference between various stages of a manuscript in the publication process.

After an author has submitted a manuscript to a journal for peer-review, very often the journal asks the author to revise (and resubmit) the manuscript as a precondition for its publication. I am wondering whether the term preprint refers to the manuscript before or after its authors made these revisions.

If a preprint includes revisions made in response to peer review, then there is only a slight difference, mostly regarding layout and style, between the preprint and the article that is published in the journal. From a reader’s perspective, there would be no point in paying for access to the article, since they can simply download the preprint free of charge. A publisher would probably want to prevent their authors (by publication agreements etc.) from publishing preprints that differ from the respective journal article only in form.

As a side question, what kind of preprints do publishers tolerate, as a rule?

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There is no consistent terminolgoy in this respect. Sherpa/Romeo, a database for publisher’s pre-print policies and probably as close to an authority as you can get on this matter, writes about this:

The terms pre-print and post-print are used to mean different things by different people. This can cause some confusion and ambiguity.

One usage of the term pre-print is to describe the first draft of the article - before peer-review, even before any contact with a publisher. This use is common amongst academics for whom the key modification of an article is the peer-review process.

Another use of the term pre-print is for the finished article, reviewed and amended, ready and accepted for publication - but separate from the version that is type-set or formatted by the publisher. This use is more common amongst publishers, for whom the final and significant stage of modification to an article is the arrangement of the material for putting to print.

[…]

To try to clarify the situation, this listing characterises pre-prints as being the version of the paper before peer review and post-prints as being the version of the paper after peer-review, with revisions having been made.

Publisher’s policies on what authors may post on a preprint server vary a lot and Sherpa/Romeo maintains an overview over these policies. However, authors may not adhere to these policies or make the most of them when publishing their papers. Thus it is usually not possible to tell which version of the paper is published on a preprint repository.

When you want to publish your own papers, I recommend to check both, Sherpa/Romeo and the copyright agreement – most of them are suprisingly human-readable.

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    I've never heard the term "post-print" used in math, and etymologically it makes no sense. Any version prior to the published one is called a preprint for us. (And some people abuse the term preprint to also mean offprint/reprint/eprint.) – Kimball Feb 5 '16 at 11:20
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I am using Elsevier as example since they are often picked on for many of their policies. Elsevier attempts to be clear about their sharing policy and allows both preprints and accepted manuscripts to be shared. In "Elsevier speak" (which may not agree with standard usage of the terms in academia)

Preprint

This is the author's own write-up of research results and analysis that has not been peer reviewed, nor had any other value added to it by a publisher (such as formatting, copy-editing, technical enhancements, and the like).

Accepted manuscript

An accepted manuscript is the manuscript of an article that has been accepted for publication and which typically includes author-incorporated changes suggested during submission, peer review, and editor-author communications. They do not include other publisher value-added contributions such as copy-editing, formatting, technical enhancements and (if relevant) pagination.

Elsevier allows for "accepted manuscripts" to be made available via "preprint" repositories (e.g., ArXiv) which of course speaks to how confusing the terminology is. So at least for articles published by Elsevier the difference between the published version and the version in a preprint repository might be limited to "copy-editing, formatting, technical enhancements".

That said, and one of my pet peeves about preprint repositories, is that the "preprint" may have any number of non-peer-review changes. Maybe during the review process some controversial data or conclusions were removed from the manuscript. There is nothing preventing the authors from re-inserting this into the "preprint".

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    Until the legal paperwork is signed, the author has ownership of the paper. The words the author uses in revising the article are a product of their own brain and creativity, not direct editing by journal/publisher staff or the referee. IANAL, but my advice to those who do use the arXiv is to whip the revised article on the arXiv quick, and many people do, before signing anything. – David Roberts Feb 4 '16 at 22:00
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    An anecdote that probably won't generalise: I published a paper in a Springer mathematics journal, and after refereeing-related revisions, put that version of the article under a Creative Commons Zero license on the arXiv (it was there already, before submission), and then told the publisher that I couldn't legally sign their paperwork giving them exclusive right to publish the article. We came to an agreement, and they published my article. Again IANAL, and I did this as a gamble and don't necessarily recommend it unless people are confident they won't be summarily rejected. – David Roberts Feb 4 '16 at 22:04
  • @DavidRoberts Springer's policy allows archiving post-prints after the embargo period. Putting things on arXiv quick is likely not the way to work around restrictive publishers as they may call it a prior publication and not allow you to publish with them. The best thing is to publish with publishers that have rules that you are willing to follow. – StrongBad Feb 5 '16 at 17:00
  • I've never heard of a maths journal rejecting a paper for 'prior publication' for being on the arXiv. In some other fields I know it happens if you so much as tweet about the results. Needless to say, I agree with your last sentence! – David Roberts Feb 6 '16 at 7:52
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The term "pre-print" generally refers to the author's final draft of the manuscript, usually the version that the author intends to submit to a journal. Thus, this draft is not peer-reviewed. For instance, Peer J defines pre-prints as follows:

A PeerJ 'PrePrint' is a draft that has not yet been peer reviewed for formal publication. Similar to preprint servers that already exist (for example arXiv.org), authors can submit draft, incomplete, or final versions of articles they are working on. preprints are not "publish ahead of print" articles, or articles that have been accepted and shown online before it has gone through typesetting, etc.

The term "post-print" is often used to refer to the revised version of the article, after the suggestions based on the peer reviewer comments have been included. In most cases, this is the version that has been accepted for publication. Thus, the post-print is very similar to the published article, with the published article including minor changes incorporated during copy editing.

Most publishers prefer to have pre-prints rather than post-prints on a public repository. Once the author has signed the copyright transfer document, he or she gives away a lot of rights to the publisher. As far as I know, copyright extends to the accepted version of the paper. Therefore, I think it is best to put up only pre-prints that have not been peer reviewed on public repositories. If you are planning to put up the revised version, that is, the version that has been accepted, it would be better to write to the journal and clarify before doing so.

  • Can you provide links to publishers that do not allow "post-prints"? I know the NIH requires post-prints to be made availble after the embargo period. – StrongBad Feb 4 '16 at 13:34
  • @StrongBad: Sherpa/Romeo has its own category for such journals. I never encountered one and I haven’t checked those journals’ policies in detail, but it may serve as a starting point to answer that question. – Wrzlprmft Feb 4 '16 at 18:36
  • @Wrzlprmft nice resource, but I think blue allows post-prints and yellow is pre-print only: sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/… – StrongBad Feb 4 '16 at 18:45
  • @StrongBad: Indeed, my bad. – Wrzlprmft Feb 4 '16 at 19:22
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    Therefore, I think it is best to put up only pre-prints that have not been peer reviewed on public repositories. – I do not consider this good advice. Many journals allow uploading the post-print, but there are some that do not allow uploading either. Hence, you cannot simply default to uploading a certain stage – you have to check the copyright agreement or at least Sherpa/Romeo. Also, asking the journal seems like overly complicated in most cases, where there is a human-readable copyright agreement telling you what you can do. – Wrzlprmft Feb 4 '16 at 19:39

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