SIDEBAR: Defining Terms

Defining research manuscripts, manuscripts, e-scripts, research memoranda, memos, e-memos, preprints, grey literature, tech reports, e-prints, occasional papers, and working papers

The literatures of scholarly electronic communication rest on some key terms that various authors use with subtle but important differences in their meanings. These terms include: publication (which can range from a one-day posting on a Web site to appearing in print in a large circulation prestigious scientific journal), preprint (which can range from any article that a scholar circulates for comment to an article that has been submitted to a journal, accepted for publication, and that has not yet been formally published), and e-print, an electronic version of a manuscript that is used as an equivalent to an electronic preprint. Even in the paper world, publishing was viewed on a continuum. The Garvey-Griffith publishing model, based on careful empirical studies of research communications in the field of psychology, treats the appearance of an article in printed conference proceedings or in a journal as the only forms of communication that warrant the label "publication." In their model, preprints are distributed when an article has been submitted to a journal, and has been accepted for publication. The preprint precedes a formally published printed version. While many scholars believe that the trajectory of publication described by Garvey and Griffith fits many fields, there are important variations in sequence and nomenclature across disciplines. These differences in the nomenclature for research articles, such as, preprints by high energy physicists, working papers, memoranda, research manuscripts, and technical reports by others, continues today. Unfortunately, this diverse terminology clouds the discussions of alternative ways to organize Internet forums to support scholarly communication.

Unfortunately, physicists have casually used the term "preprint" to refer to manuscripts whose publication status is similar to that of what are sometimes called research memoranda, working papers and technical reports in other fields. For example, the PrePRINT Network at Oak Ridge National Laboratories states that: "preprints, or 'e-prints,' are manuscripts that have not yet been published, but may have been reviewed and accepted; submitted for publication; or intended for publication and being circulated for comment." The PrePRINT Network is a valuable service in the physical sciences; but its definition of preprint is so elastic that it can refer to any research manuscript, even one that is only posted on an author's personal Web site, and not subsequently published elsewhere. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a preprint as "something printed in advance; a portion of a work printed and issued before the publication of the whole." High-energy physicists gave their research manuscripts a status boost by referring to them as preprints before they were accepted for publication. For example, according to its official description, "Recently, fewer than 40 percent of submitted papers have been finally accepted for publication in Physical Review Letters." In our article we try to use terminology that works across disciplines. Consequently, we use the term "research manuscript" (or simply "manuscript" and "e-script") to refer to articles that have not yet been accepted for publication in a specific venue. We use the term "preprint" conservatively — to refer to manuscripts in the form in which they are likely to appear in a conference proceedings, journal, or book (whether in printed form, electronic form, or both).