Publishers often make distinctions between three primary versions of a manuscript when detailing the archive or deposit rights retained by authors: the pre-print, the post-print and the publishers version.
Pre-print – A pre-print is the original version of the manuscript as it is submitted to a journal. While the authors may have sought help from their colleagues in selecting data analysis techniques, improving manuscript clarity, and correcting grammar, the pre-print has not been through a process of peer review. It typically looks like a term paper – a double spaced .doc file with minimal formatting.
Post-print – A post-print is a document that has been through the peer review process and incorporated reviewers comments. It is the final version of the paper before it is sent off the the journal for publication. It may be missing a final copyedit (if the journal still does that) and won’t be formatted to look like the journal. It still looks like the double spaced .doc file. Sometimes, the term “pre-print” is used interchangeably with “post-print,” but when it comes to permissions issues, it is important to clarify which version of a manuscript is being discussed.
Publishers version/PDF – This is the version of record that is published on the publishers website. It will look quite spiffy, having been professionally typeset by the publisher. Library databases will link to this version of the paper.
Generally speaking, publishers are more likely to be okay with authors posting copies of pre-print versus other manuscript versions. But each journal is different, and authors need to be aware of what they can do. The copyright transfer agreement is the best place to find this information.
When publishing your work, you will usually be presented with a contract or copyright transfer agreement drafted by the publisher. Many of these publisher drafted agreements transfer copyright fully to the publisher thereby restricting an author's subsequent usage of his or her published work, including resuse of the work in teaching and further research. After transferring copyright to the publisher, the author generally has little say in how the work is later used. The result, all too often, is that contracts restrict the dissemination of one’s scholarship and lessen one’s impact as an author. By transferring copyright to the publisher, these agreements restrict an author from including the published work:
Accordingly, authors should take care to assign the rights to their work in a manner that permits them and their students and colleagues to use their work in teaching, research and other purposes. Transferring copyright doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Publishers only need the right of first publication, not a wholesale transfer of copyright. So, a compromise is often desirable, which authors can accomplish through an appropriate addendum.
This brief video from the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) explains what rights you can retain as an author.
SHERPA/RoMEO collects information about publisher policies related to online sharing (“archiving”) of works published in most journals. Journals and publishers are classified according to a color scheme that relate to the archive rights that authors retain. Authors are encouraged to research the policies of journals they have published in or are considering submitting a manuscript to in order to ascertain what rights in that work they will retain. Authors who wish to publish a copy of their articles will want to look for journals classified as green or blue, then check on any additional restrictions.