Context: scholarly publishing, journal

In the publishing of scholarly papers in journal, a preprint can mean one of two things:

  • Authors would normally submit their papers to the editors of a journal in order for it to be refereed. This process can take several months. In the meantime, these authors may wish to distribute their papers by some other means, either by self-publishing, or placing their papers in a public forum. These temporary versions of the papers are known as preprints.
  • As a service to the research community, publishers of journals would normally provide extra copies (about 20-50) of published papers to their authors, as they would appear in the journal. This is basically equivalent to taking the 20-50 copies of the published journal, removing the binding, separating the papers, then sending them to the original authors. These extra copies are known as preprints or offprints. (This is in addition to any proofs that the publisher may send to the authors prior to publication.)

The aim of providing preprints (sense 1) is to speed up the distribution of research findings to the community. Whilst the credibility of these papers are not as great as published, refereed articles, these papers still play an important part in scholarly discussion in the community. Similarly, providing preprints (sense 2) to authors means that the authors would be able to distribute copies of their work to those who otherwise would not be able to obtain such material (because their library has not subscribed to the said journal).