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Journal Selection for MEDLINE

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) decides whether the scientific and editorial character and quality of a journal merit its inclusion in MEDLINE. In making this decision, NLM considers scientific policy set by the NLM Board of Regents, the suitability of the journal for the NLM Collection (according to the criteria in the Collection Development Guidelines), as well as the recommendations of an NIH Federal Advisory Committee, the Literature Selection Technical Review Committee (LSTRC).

The LSTRC consists of fifteen members, including scientists (i.e., Ph.D.- or M.D.-level researchers and physicians) and medical librarians. The LSTRC generally reviews articles from the last two years of journal content and evaluates them primarily based on scientific and editorial quality.

MEDLINE’s Scientific Quality Review is a rigorous, multi-step process in which many factors are assessed. NLM views each journal comprehensively, rather than basing a decision on a defined list of criteria. Each title is reviewed by multiple individuals both within the NLM and the LSTRC, and final decisions are based on input from all these sources. The final decision of whether to index a journal for MEDLINE is made by the Director of the NLM.  

A description of possible considerations during the Scientific Quality Review is given below. For an overview of the MEDLINE pre-application requirements as well as a step-by-step breakdown of the MEDLINE application and review process, please see How to Include a Journal in MEDLINE.

Scientific and Editorial Quality Assessment

The scientific and editorial quality assessment for MEDLINE focuses on 5 critical elements, listed in the table below. Examples of the types of questions the reviewers may consider for each element are also provided.

Critical Element Possible Considerations
Scope and Coverage
  • Are the journal’s aims and scope clearly stated?
  • How does the scope of the journal contribute to the field of biomedicine?
  • Does the authorship, editorial board makeup, and content accurately reflect the journal’s scope? (E.g., is authorship international or local/regional? What article types are published in the journal and on what topics?)
  • Does the journal cover an area of research and/or geographic location that is relatively under-represented in the scientific literature?
Editorial Policies and Processes
  • Is the peer review process explicit and sufficiently detailed, including information on the type of peer review and the number of reviewers typically assigned to a manuscript?
  • Does the journal have a policy for the review of articles authored by editors and editorial board members (if applicable)?
  • Are the journal’s ethical policies findable, clearly stated, and consistent with current best practices?
  • Are statements regarding approval from an ethics committee and/or regulatory body (animal or human subjects), and informed consent present in all relevant articles?
  • Do authors consistently disclose conflicts of interest and funding sources?
  • Are commercial sponsorships clearly addressed (i.e., do not raise questions about the objectivity of published content)?
  • Are full names, affiliations, and credentials provided for the journal’s editors/editorial board?
  • Do members of the editorial board have appropriate credentials and subject matter expertise?
  • Is the role of editors, editorial board members, and other editorial staff clear?
  • Is there sufficient variation in the editorial board and the authorship of articles?
  • Do journal policies support transparency, reproducibility, open science, and data sharing?
Scientific Rigor¹/Methodological Rigor²
  • Does the abstract provide a complete and accurate description of the content of the article?
  • Are study aims clearly stated and logical?
  • Is the rationale/justification for conducting the study clear?
  • Are the methods described in sufficient detail so that the experiment could be reproduced?
  • Are the contents reported in a manner that is consistent with reporting guidelines for the article/study type?
  • Is the study design robust and appropriate to the stated aim?
  • Are the conclusions drawn supported by the data?
  • Is the discussion section critical and comprehensive?
  • Are the references appropriate in number and up-to-date?
  • Are statements supported appropriately by citations?
Production and Administration
  • Does the journal keep to its stated publication schedule?
  • Does the publication frequency and volume demonstrate long-term sustainability?
  • Are figures and tables well-constructed and of sufficiently high resolution (i.e., not blurry)?
  • Are figures and tables well-annotated and easy to read and interpret?
  • Is the writing clear, concise, and logical?
  • Does the writing impede scientific meaning or cause confusion?
  • Are authors listed with affiliations and correspondence information?
  • Do articles of the same type (i.e., original research) follow a consistent structure, outlined in the instructions for authors?
  • Do original research articles, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses have structured abstracts?
  • Are there indicators of sufficient editorial attention, as evidenced by the elimination of editorial errors (e.g., incorrectly numbered sections, mislabeled tables/figures)?
  • Is the website functional and easy to use/navigate?
  • Can individual articles be downloaded?
  • In what format(s) is journal content available (e.g., PDF, HTML)?
  • What is the overall significance³ of the journal?
  • Does the journal critically synthesize and organize knowledge in its field?


¹NLM uses the definition of scientific rigor provided by the NIH Office of Extramural Research, which defines scientific rigor as "the strict application of the scientific method to ensure robust and unbiased experimental design, methodology, analysis, interpretation and reporting of results." This includes full transparency in reporting experimental details so that others may reproduce and extend the findings.

²In fields of research where scientific rigor may not apply, the journal’s methodological rigor will be evaluated.

³NLM’s definition of “significance” is adapted from the NIH Office of Extramural Research website; specifically, significance considers the importance of the problem investigated in the article, as well as whether the article will improve scientific knowledge, and the article’s relative contribution to the field.

In addition to the above, as outlined in the Collection Development Guidelines, review articles should generally contain substantive summaries and analysis of recent research in a field. Case reports should include thorough and detailed case presentations, as well as substantial discussions about the relevance to clinical practice and research. Data articles should detail the methods used to create or collect the data, describe validation of the data, and facilitate the sharing and reuse of the data by other researchers. Protocols should provide complete methodological detail that allows for reproducibility, including sample sizes, description of materials, planned data/statistical analyses, and any ethical requirements.

Reporting Guidelines and Best Practices

There are numerous resources available that can aid authors and journals in improving article quality. As examples, some resources NLM encourages journals and authors to reference are:

For a more comprehensive list see the Research and Reporting Guidelines list maintained by NLM. This resource lists the major biomedical research reporting guidelines that provide advice for reporting research methods and findings. They usually "specify a minimum set of items required for a clear and transparent account of what was done and what was found in a research study, reflecting, in particular, issues that might introduce bias into the research" (Adapted from the EQUATOR Network Resource Centre). The chart also includes editorial style guides for writing research reports or other publications.

In addition, NLM expects journals to demonstrate conformance with established industry guidelines and best practices promoted by the professional scholarly publishing organizations, including those outlined under Publisher Practices.

Last Reviewed: May 2, 2024