Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: Properly Citing Manuscripts

by on Monday, November 21, 2016

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy (see requires that peer-reviewed publications from investigators who are funded by NIH grants be made publicly available. This article will describe the different types of identification numbers that are used to demonstrate that an article is compliant with the NIH Public Access Policy and when to use each.

The previous installment in this series described the four methods by which articles can be submitted to PubMed Central, the public repository for peer-reviewed publications. Depending on the method that is used, different identification numbers are assigned to the article. When and how to cite articles using these different numbers has been a source of confusion for investigators and administrators alike.

A Little Background
Many people know about PubMed, the database of journal article citations and abstracts. Biomedical researchers regularly use this resource to find new articles related to their work. It is part of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which also houses databases of full journal articles (PubMed Central – a separate database from PubMed), genome sequences, protein information, and various other types of data. NCBI also allows researchers to create a private personal page (called My NCBI) where they can maintain their bibliography and biographical sketches. This personal page can be linked to the researcher’s personal eRA Commons account for NIH grants.

By the Numbers
There are different identification numbers that are used to cite articles. As mentioned above, PubMed Central is the public database of complete journal articles. When a journal has been submitted and accepted into PubMed Central, it is assigned a permanent PMCID number. Once an article has a PMCID number assigned, that number will be added to the end of that article’s citation in bibliographies and biosketches, as well as for reporting purposes to NIH (and other institutions with similar public access policies).

The PMCID number that is assigned to a complete article is different from the number that is linked to a citation in PubMed (the PMID number). The similarity between the nomenclatures of these two numbers has led to considerable confusion when people are new to this process. Both numbers are linked to the same article, but only one serves a function in demonstrating compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy. Unfortunately, the number part of the PMCID number is not the same as that of the PMID number for the same article. Thus, it is important to use the PMCID number and not the PMID number to comply with the NIH policy.

Some investigators may list both the PMCID number and the PMID number in their citations. It is not a problem to do this, but including the PMID number doesn’t serve any purpose.

The other identification number that is used for citing submitted articles is the NIHMSID number. An NIHMSID number is created when an article is submitted via the NIH Manuscript Submission System (NIHMS). This is used any time that an article has to be manually uploaded by the author and in some cases when a publisher submits the article. The NIHMSID is a temporary number that is only valid for the first three months after an article has been accepted for publication.

An article that is submitted via NIHMS will be moved to PubMed Central and have a permanent PMCID number assigned, usually within a few weeks after submitting it to NIHMS. After the PMCID number is assigned, the NIHMSID number should no longer be used. Since the temporary NIHMSID number is only good for three months after the article has been accepted and it takes a little time for the final PMCID number to be assigned, it is important that authors who have to manually upload an article do so as soon as possible to avoid noncompliance.

Demonstrating Compliance
When submission Methods A and B are used, the journal/publisher submits an article directly to PubMed Central. If an article needs to be cited before the PMCID number is assigned, the author will put ‘PMC Journal-In Process’ at the end of the article citation. If it has been more than three months since the article was published and a PMC number has still not been assigned, the author will need to contact the journal/publisher. Once the PMCID number is assigned, it should replace the statement above.

When Methods C and D are used, the final approved version of the article is submitted via the NIHMS portal. It is then formatted and transferred to PubMed Central. Within the first three months after the article has been accepted, either the NIHMSID or the PMCID number can be used. Once the PMCID number is assigned, the NIHMSID number should no longer be used. After three months from the date of publication, only the PMCID number is acceptable.

So, what happens if the author needs to submit the article manually to NIHMS (submission Method C) but doesn’t do it within three months of the publication date? If an article isn’t submitted within the required time frame, it is not compliant with the NIH Public Access Policy and should be submitted as soon as this is realized. The same process is followed for submission. An NIHMSID number will still be assigned when the late article is submitted. However, in this situation, it will not be useful for demonstrating compliance because the article was published more than three months earlier. The author will need to wait until the NIHMS completes their steps and then give final approval before a permanent PMCID number is assigned.

Just as there are different methods of submitting articles to PubMed Central, there are different numbers that are used to demonstrate compliance. Appending an article’s citation with the NIHMSID number (for submission Methods A and B) or ‘PMC Journal-In Process’ (for submission Methods C and D) are temporary ways to demonstrate compliance within three months after the publication date. The PMCID number (not to be confused with the PMID number) is the permanent number that is assigned when the article is added to PubMed Central and fully demonstrates that an article is compliant with the NIH Public Access Policy.

The next installment in this series will cover how to use the National Library of Medicine’s My NCBI tool to build bibliographies and biographical sketches that meet the requirements of the NIH Public Access Policy. These documents can be used for NIH grant applications and reporting.

Related Articles:
Part 1: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy
Part 2: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: The Submission Process 
Part 4: Navigating the NIH Public Access Policy: My NCBI

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