Guideline for Indexing Journals to PMC and MEDLINE

PubMed, with its vast repository of over 36 million biomedical literature citations, is a cornerstone for the medical and life sciences community. Managed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), PubMed provides open access to diverse fields, including medicine, veterinary sciences, nursing, dentistry, preclinical sciences, and healthcare systems.

In order to secure a spot in PubMed’s index, journals undergo a meticulous process involving MEDLINE selection or submission to PubMed Central (PMC), which mandates the creation of full-text Journal Article Tag Suite (JATS) XML.

PubMed goes beyond text, hosting a substantial collection of videos. Renowned journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and Surgical Endoscopy, contribute to an expanding library of over 750 surgical and clinical knowledge-enhancing videos indexed since 2003 under the Publication Type “Video-Audio Media.”

Advantages of PubMed Indexing

Inclusion in PubMed is a valuable achievement for any researcher working in the biomedical and life sciences field.

Increased Visibility and Reach: PubMed is one of the most comprehensive and widely used databases for biomedical and life sciences literature. Inclusion in PubMed means your research will be accessible to a vast audience of researchers, clinicians, and other interested individuals around the world. This can significantly increase the visibility and reach of your work, potentially leading to:

  • More citations: Being cited by other researchers is a key metric of the impact and importance of your work. Increased visibility in PubMed can lead to more citations, which can boost your academic reputation and career prospects.
  • New collaborations: Greater visibility can attract the attention of other researchers working in related fields, potentially leading to new collaborations and research opportunities.
  • Funding opportunities: Some funding agencies consider publication in PubMed as a criterion for awarding grants. Inclusion in the database can make your research more competitive for securing funding.

Enhanced Credibility and Legitimacy: Being indexed in PubMed lends credibility and legitimacy to your research. It demonstrates that your work has undergone a rigorous review process and meets the database’s high standards for quality and relevance. This can be particularly important for early-career researchers or those working in niche fields.

Improved Discoverability: PubMed’s advanced search engine allows researchers to easily find relevant articles based on keywords, MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), and other indexing terms. This makes it easier for potential readers to discover your research, even if they are not familiar with your specific area of study.

Open access potential: Inclusion in PubMed often opens the door for your research to be included in PubMed Central (PMC), a free, full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences literature. This can further increase the accessibility and impact of your work, particularly for researchers in developing countries or those with limited institutional resources.

Long-term preservation: PubMed serves as a permanent archive of your research. This ensures that your work will be available and accessible to future generations of researchers, even if the original source material becomes unavailable.

Distinguishing PubMed from MEDLINE and PubMed Central (PMC)

MEDLINE represents the core of biomedical literature, providing a highly curated and reliable source of information. PubMed offers a more comprehensive search and includes citations from additional sources, while PubMed Central (PMC) provides free access to full-text articles. These three resources work together to provide researchers, clinicians, and the general public with a wealth of biomedical information.

Here’s a breakdown of their distinct roles and characteristics:

MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online):

MEDLINE is a curated subset of PubMed that contains citations from biomedical journals that have undergone rigorous peer review. It is considered the foundation of PubMed and provides a high-quality, reliable source of biomedical information.

Characteristics of MEDLINE:

  • Selective indexing: MEDLINE includes only those articles deemed to be of high quality and relevance to biomedical research.
  • MeSH indexing: Articles in MEDLINE are indexed with MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), a controlled vocabulary that provides standardized terminology for medical topics.
  • Rigorous curation: MEDLINE citations go through a strict review process to ensure their accuracy and relevance.


PubMed is a broader, more comprehensive database that includes citations from MEDLINE, as well as from other sources such as PubMed Central (PMC) and Bookshelf. It offers a more extensive search capability and allows users to explore a wider range of biomedical literature.

Characteristics of PubMed:

  • Broader coverage: PubMed encompasses a wider range of biomedical literature, including articles from journals not indexed in MEDLINE.
  • Multiple sources: PubMed includes citations from MEDLINE, PMC, and Bookshelf, providing access to a diverse collection of biomedical literature.
  • Advanced search options: PubMed offers more sophisticated search filters and options, allowing users to refine their searches and find more specific information.

PubMed Central (PMC):

PubMed Central is a free digital archive of biomedical and life sciences literature. It includes full-text articles from journals that have been either published open access or deposited by their authors. PMC provides free access to a vast body of biomedical research.

Characteristics of PubMed Central:

  • Full-text access: PMC provides full-text access to all articles, making the research readily available for free.
  • Open access: PMC focuses on open access publications, ensuring that research is widely accessible and disseminated.
  • Deposition of articles: PMC accepts article depositions from authors and institutions, expanding the archive’s content.

Both PMC and MEDLINE offer valuable platforms for journals to increase visibility, reach, and impact. Choosing the right path depends on the journal’s specific goals, resources, and commitment to open access.

Indexing processes for PMC and MEDLINE

The guidelines for indexing journals to PMC and MEDLINE differ slightly, but both emphasize quality, relevance, and accessibility.

PMC Application Process

Initial Eligibility:

  • Journal must have at least 25 peer-reviewed articles published.
  • Content should be relevant to the biomedical and life sciences field.
  • Publishers must agree to deposit all accepted articles to PMC immediately upon publication.

Application Materials:

  • Cover letter: Briefly describes the journal, its audience, publication frequency, and open access policies.
  • Journal information: Details on editorial board, peer-review process, and copyright policies.
  • Sample issue: Provides a representative example of the journal’s format and content.
  • Technical documentation: Demonstrates compliance with PMC’s data submission standards.

Review Process: PMC staff reviews the application for completeness and eligibility. If eligible, the application goes to the PMC Selection Committee for evaluation based on:

  • Scientific quality: Content must be scientifically rigorous and meet the standards of the biomedical and life sciences community.
  • Relevance to PMC’s collection: Articles should align with the scope of PMC, which focuses on biomedical and life sciences research.
  • Open access: PMC prioritizes journals that publish open access articles or have a plan to transition to open access.
  • Technical quality: Submissions must meet PMC’s technical standards for formatting and metadata.

Selection Outcome:

  • PMC notifies the publisher of the decision.
  • If accepted, the journal becomes part of PMC and authors can begin depositing articles.
  • If not accepted, PMC provides feedback and encourages resubmission after addressing any concerns.

Selective Deposit Option:

  • Even non-indexed journals can deposit individual articles if:
  • The research is NIH-funded.
  • The articles comply with specific open access policies.

MEDLINE Application Process:

Initial Eligibility:

  • Journal must have at least 40 peer-reviewed articles published.
  • Content must fall within the scope of biomedicine and life sciences.
  • Journal demonstrates international representation in terms of authors and readership.

Application Materials:

  • Detailed cover letter: Explains the journal’s significance, target audience, and editorial policies.
  • Journal information: Extensive data on publication history, peer-review process, and author demographics.
  • Sample issues: Multiple issues representing the journal’s range and quality.
  • Technical documentation: Ensures adherence to NLM’s citation format and metadata standards.

Review Process:

NLM staff conducts a thorough initial review. If promising, the application goes to the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee (LSTRC) for:

  • Scientific quality: Content must be of exceptional scientific quality and significance to the MEDLINE global audience.
  • Originality and importance: Articles should present original research that advances knowledge in the relevant field.
  • International scope: MEDLINE strives to represent a diverse range of countries and languages.
  • Technical quality: Citations must meet NLM’s technical standards for accuracy and completeness.

Selection Outcome:

  • LSTRC sends its recommendation to the NLM Director for final decision.
  • The publisher receives notification of acceptance or rejection with detailed feedback.
  • Accepted journals become part of MEDLINE and must adhere to ongoing requirements for citation submission and quality maintenance.

Key Differences:

  • PMC focuses on open access commitment, while MEDLINE prioritizes exceptional scientific quality.
  • PMC application process is generally faster and less demanding compared to MEDLINE’s rigorous review.
  • MEDLINE acceptance carries greater prestige and wider recognition in the research community.

Here are some helpful resources for further details:

PMC Guidelines: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/about/guidelines/

MEDLINE Selection Criteria: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medline/medline_journal_selection.html

MEDLINE Policies: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/about/guidelines/










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