Etymology of "Eprint"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 21 Aug 2000 10:36:22 +0100

On Sun, 20 Aug 2000, wmy wrote:

> Dear Prof. Stevan Harnad,
> I am a young editor of the Publishing House of the Chinese Medical
> Association. I am writing a paper on electronic preprint, but I cannot
> find a paper systematically introducing the origin and development of
> electronic preprint.
> I know you are a well-know expert in this field, so could I ask you a
> question. My question is: When, if possible, who first put forward the
> idea of electronic preprint? And if convenient, could you please provide
> me with some related references.
> Any help from you will be appreciated.
> Best regards,
> Mouyue Wang
> Publishing House
> Chinese Medical Association

Dear Mouyue Wang,

The idea of a "preprint" comes from the paper era, and it refers
to a paper copy of an article that has not yet been refereed or
accepted for publication.

Scholars and scientists have been sharing paper preprints with one
another before publication for decades, especially in Physics. And it
was in Physics that the idea of the "electronic preprint" was born, or
at least reached discipline-wide scale: It started in 1991 as an email
version of the preprint, sent to a specific mailing list of high energy
physicists; then it quickly evolved into a Web version, archived in at Los Alamos for everyone who might be interested.
(The founder founder of both these systems was Paul Ginsparg at Los

    Ginsparg, P. (1994) First Steps Towards Electronic Research
    Communication. Computers in Physics. (August, American Institute of
    Physics). 8(4): 390-396.

In parallel, authors in all disciplines, from the 1980's onward, began
to archive their paper "tech reports" (= preprints) on-line, and often
also the final drafts of their papers, first, on their individual,
departmental, or institutional FTP sites, and then, with the advent of
the web, on their websites.

And the phenomenon evolved further. First of all, even in the Los
Alamos Physics "Preprint" Archive, the papers were never only preprints
for long. After the pre-publication paper was refereed, revised, and
accepted, authors would either archive that final draft too (as a
"postprint," as I have called it) or they would at least add to the
preprint file the full citation for the accepted journal version
(presumably because the changes between the preprint and the postprint
were minor).


    Harnad, S. & Carr, L. (2000) Integrating, Navigating and Analyzing
    Eprint Archives Through Open Citation Linking (the OpCit Project).
    Current Science (special issue honour of Eugene Garfield) (in press)

(and references cited/linked therein).

So it is highly misleading to keep speaking of "electronic PREprints."
This is the reason that the Open Archive initiative
( has been re-named as such (in place of its
older name "UPS: Universal Preprint Service") -- because it is NOT just
for electronic PREprints, but also for electronic POSTprints.

Hence electronic (preprints + postprints) = "eprints".

I am not really sure who first coined the term "eprints." (Perhaps it
was also Paul Ginsparg.) I recommend using that word, in place of
"electronic preprints," which incorrectly leaves out "electronic


Some other papers on the topic:

    Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication
    Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 - 343
    (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).

    Odlyzko, A.M. (1995) Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending
    demise of traditional scholarly journals, International Journal of
    Human-Computer Studies (formerly International Journal of
    Man-Machine Studies), 42 (1995), 71-122.

    Okerson A. & O'Donnell, J. (Eds.) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the
    Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing.
    Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries, June 1995.


Stevan Harnad
Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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