The journal has traditionally been seen to embody four functions:

Registration : establishing the author's precedence and ownership of an idea
Dissemination : communicating the findings to its intended audience
Certification : ensuring quality control through peer review and rewarding authors
Archival record : preserving a fixed version of the paper for future reference and citation.

It is also worth noting that these functions can be seen as much as services for authors as for readers. Indeed it has been suggested that when authors transfer rights in their articles to journal publishers for no fee, they are not "giving away" the rights but exchanging them for these services (and others, such as copyediting).

Journal publishing cycle

The movement of information between the different participants in the journal publishing process is usually called "the publishing cycle" Here research information, created by an author from a particular research community, passes through the journal editorial office of the author's chosen journal to its journal publisher, subscribing institutional libraries - often via a subscription agent - before ending up back in the hands of the readers of that research community as a published paper in a journal. In the world of electronic publishing, of course, readers also obtain journal articles directly from the publisher in parallel to the library route.

Authors publish to disseminate their results but also to establish their own personal reputations and their priority and ownership of ideas. The third-party date-stamping mechanism of the journal registers their paper as being received and accepted at a certain date, while the reputation of the journal becomes associated with both the article and by extension the author.

The role of the publisher has often been confused with that of the printer or manufacturer, but it is much wider. Identifying new, niche markets for the launch of new journals, or the expansion (or closure) of existing journals is a key role for the journals publisher. This entrepreneurial aspect seeks both to meet a demand for new journals from within the academic community - and it is noteworthy that journal publishers have been instrumental in the birth of a number of disciplines through their early belief in them and support of new journals for them - but also to generate a satisfactory return on investment.

As well as being an entrepreneur, the journal publisher is also required to have the following capabilities:

Manufacturer/electronic service provider copyediting, typesetting & tagging, and (for the time being) printing and binding the journals.

Distributor publishers maintain a subscription fulfillment system which guarantees that goods are delivered on time, maintaining relationships with subscription agents, serials librarians and the academic community.

Electronic host electronic journals require many additional skill sets more commonly encountered with database vendors, website developers and computer systems more generally.

Types of articles One potential issue with the widespread adoption of self-archiving is that multiple versions of articles will be available to readers (and others, such as repository managers). In order to help create a consistent nomenclature for journal articles at various stages of the publishing cycle, NISO (National Information Standards Organization) and ALPSP have collaborated on a recommended usage (NISO 2008).

The NISO recommended terms are
AO = Author's Original
SMUR = Submitted Manuscript Under Review
AM = Accepted Manuscript
P = Proof
VoR = Version of Record
CVoR = Corrected Version of Record
EVoR = Enhanced Version of Record

For many purposes (such as much of this report) this represents a finer-grained structure than is necessary for discussing journal publishing. stm in its discussions with the EU and others refers instead to
Stage 1 (the author's original manuscript)
Stage 2 (the accepted manuscript) and
Stage 3 (the final paper - any of the versions of record).