Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: The Submission Process

by Carson Harrod on Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy (see requires that peer-reviewed publications originating from NIH-funded research be made publicly available. The first article of this series introduced the NIH Public Access Policy. This article will explain the different methods of submitting manuscripts to PubMed Central (PMC), the NIH-designated public repository for journal articles.

Before diving into this month’s topic, I wanted to provide a brief follow-up to my previous article. I recently attended a webinar hosted by another granting agency that is not a federal government agency (the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, aka CPRIT). CPRIT announced that it will also start requiring publications that result from its grants be submitted to PubMed Central. This reminded me that other federal agencies in addition to the NIH have also established Public Access Policies that require manuscripts to be made publicly available via PubMed Central. A list of these agencies and links to their respective policies can be found on the NIH Manuscript Submission System (NIHMS, see More federal and non-federal agencies may institute similar requirements in the future.

Submitting Manuscripts for Compliance with NIH Public Access Policy

Now, to the topic at hand. Manuscripts that fall under the NIH Public Access Policy must be posted on PubMed Central (not to be confused with PubMed, this will be addressed in the next article of this series). There are four methods of manuscript submission, known simply as Methods A, B, C and D. Authors, or their designees, must determine which method to use. This depends on the journal in which the manuscript is published.

Many journals and publishers will submit manuscripts directly to PMC or to NIHMS. In some cases, special arrangements (possibly for a fee) must be made between the authors and publishers to have the journal submit the manuscript. For journals that do not submit manuscripts, NIHMS is the portal that authors will use to upload and approve manuscripts for public release on PMC.

We will look at each of the four methods for manuscript submission. The descriptions of these methods in the box below are taken from the NIH Public Access Policy page.

Method A:  Some journals automatically post NIH-supported papers directly to PubMed Central.
Method B:  Authors must make special arrangements for some journals and publishers to post the paper directly to PubMed Central.
Method C:  Authors or their designee must submit manuscripts to the NIH Manuscript Submission System.
Method D:  Some publishers will submit manuscripts to the NIH Manuscript Submission System.

For Methods A and B, the publisher submits the manuscript directly to PMC, approves the submission and approves the final web version of the manuscript. Methods C and D differ in who submits them to NIHMS (the author for Method C and the publisher for Method D). However, both Methods C and D require that the author approve the submission and approve the final web version of the manuscript. Methods C and D also allow the author to list the NIH funding that supported the manuscript.

When a manuscript is submitted to NIHMS using Methods C and D, it can take a few weeks for review and formatting. The author will then review the NIHMS-formatted manuscript and give final approval. Manuscripts that are submitted via Methods C and D to the NIHMS are automatically transferred to PMC after final approvals are completed.

When Method C is used, the author must submit the final approved version of the manuscript. This includes the main text of the manuscript, figures, tables and any supplementary materials. These same materials are submitted by the journal or publisher when other methods are used.

To find out whether a journal deposits manuscripts or not, you can check the NIHMS web site for lists of journals by method of submission. It is important to point out that the authors are ultimately responsible to make sure that publications are submitted, no matter what method is used. Also, each manuscript only needs to be submitted once, so multiple authors need not independently submit the same manuscript. Nonetheless, even though only one author needs to submit a manuscript, all authors are still responsible for it being done.

Submission of manuscripts to PMC is only the beginning of the compliance process. Future installments of this series will focus on how to cite manuscripts that have been submitted and how to utilize the National Library of Medicine’s My NCBI web site to build bibliographies and biographical sketches that demonstrate compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy.

Related Articles:
Part 1: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy 
Part 3: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: Properly Citing Manuscripts 
Part 4: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: My NCBI

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