Frequently Asked Questions About PLOS and PLOS Medicine

Open access and medical research

What is open-access publishing?

PLOS applies the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to all works we publish. Under the CC BY license, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their article, but authors allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles in PLOS journals, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.

Open access makes papers more useful by allowing sophisticated searching, manipulation, and mining of the literature.

Why is open-access important for medical research?

Published discoveries and ideas are the foundation for future progress in medicine and healthcare. The more widely and freely accessible they are, the greater their value to researchers, clinicians, policymakers, and the public. Unfettered access to this research literature will facilitate basic and clinical research throughout the world, and hasten the development of new treatments for those most in need.

How will open-access publishing affect the practice of medical science?

According to the World Health Organization, only 10% of health research funding targets the diseases and conditions that account for 90% of global health problems. Even worse, the research results that do address these problems remain inaccessible to the great majority of health care providers who need it most. Open-access publishing strives to correct this fundamental inequity by making medical research a global public resource, and by delivering critical information such that it may be easily condensed, summarized, and reproduced to support local health care efforts around the world. Closing the information gap between rich and poor nations provides a necessary first step towards promoting universal, evidence-based health care, while at the same time promoting scientific inquiry through the untrammeled exchange of ideas.

Why do we need open access when other journals release their content within a year after publication?

Not many journals release their content for free, and those that do maintain restrictions on how that free content may be used and distributed by readers. Furthermore, the delay they impose—often 6 or 12 months—can be problematic for both authors and readers of medical research. Open-access publishing offers a meaningful alternative: immediate access to the latest research, free of charge and with few limits on how the material is reused. We believe that medical research can and should be disseminated as efficiently, effectively, and equitably as possible.

Do authors have to assign copyright to PLOS?

No. It will be up to the authors to decide whether they wish to retain copyright or transfer copyright to their research institution or to PLOS. But no matter who owns the copyright, authors will be required to grant users an irrevocable license to print, copy, or use the work in any lawful way, subject to the condition that proper attribution is given whenever the work is reproduced or redistributed. Please see our licensing agreement for more information and this editorial for a further explanation of why we employ this copyright arrangement.

Inside PLOS Medicine

PLOS Medicine publishes articles relevant to clinicians, policymakers, and researchers across a range of settings that address the major biological, environmental, social, and political determinants of health. The editors make decisions on submissions based upon their potential to directly and substantially inform clinical practice or health policy, and their relevance to our international audience.

Articles given highest priority for publication are those that address conditions or risk factors that cause the greatest losses in years of healthy life and quality of life worldwide.

PLOS Medicine also seeks to publish articles in the area of translational medicine that provide substantial, novel mechanistic insights into disease processes, with potential implications for clinical care. Additionally PLOS Medicine considers articles on topics relating to the integrity and ethics of the research enterprise; the practice of medicine; and the application of research to practice to fall within its scope.

How is PLOS Medicine different from other high-profile, medical journals?

PLOS Medicine is the leading open-access medical journal, providing an innovative and influential venue for research and comment on the major challenges to human health worldwide. We specifically seek to publish papers which have relevance across a range of settings and that address the major environmental, social, and political determinants of health, as well as the biological.

By offering free access and redistribution rights for all our articles, PLOS Medicine aims to bring the latest medical research to a global audience. Our unique and rigorous review process is run as a collaborative effort between an international team of academic editors, who are experts in their field, and experienced, full-time professional editors working to ensure fairness and consistency. The journal is international and inclusive, covering global health issues, neglected diseases, health policy, and vital debates in medicine, with easy-to-read, professionally written Editors' Summaries provided for each research article. Finally, unlike most other medical journals, PLOS Medicine does not carry advertisements for drugs or other medical devices.

Who should read PLOS Medicine?

Clinical researchers, practicing health care providers, policy-makers, medical educators, and medical students, as well as patients, their families, and their friends, will all benefit in different ways from reading PLOS Medicine.

Why should clinical researchers read PLOS Medicine?

As a top-tier medical journal, PLOS Medicine publishes high quality research papers across all medical fields, including global health and epidemiology. The journal is run by a team of experienced medical editors. The peer review process is run in collaboration with academic researchers thus ensuring the quality of published articles. Because PLOS Medicine is an open-access journal, clinical researchers do not have to depend on their institutions having a subscription in order to read important research papers.

Why should practicing health care providers read PLOS Medicine?

PLOS Medicine emphasizes both original research and the application of that research to clinical practice. The Perspectives section will describe wider implications of an important research study, the Learning Forum sections uses specific clinical cases to educate health care providers about specific clinical issues. The journal publishes original research in all medical fields—including those most important to health care providers around the world—and also provides summaries for non experts written by the editorial staff.

Why should health policy-makers read PLOS Medicine?

As one of the only major medical publications to provide immediate, free access to all its content, PLOS Medicine has a particular role in the dissemination of the policy and practice of health care around the world. Any policymaker with Internet access can download and distribute an article without any restrictions (all we ask is that articles are cited correctly). Original research is supported by plain language summaries, and perspective articles that discuss the wider relevance of these findings. Sections in the magazine section of the journal will highlight the efforts of policy-makers to improve clinical care for their constituencies, and offer a wealth of essays and ideas for how research may be translated into public health.

Why should medical educators read PLOS Medicine?

PLOS Medicine has a strong focus on global issues relevant to educating future doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers about the latest advances in medical research. Medical educators can find valuable primary materials and thoughtful discussion pieces that can be freely reproduced and distributed in an educational (or any other) setting, according to the terms of our open-access license.

Why should medical students read PLOS Medicine?

PLOS Medicine brings the best medical research in all disciplines to medical students throughout the world, and explain what it means for professionals and patients. Students can find a unique, global perspective on current medical debates, and analyses of vital health issues, including social medicine, neglected diseases, and key controversies. PLOS Medicine helps students keep up to date with important areas of research, policy, and practice, and gain a broader understanding of health care. The Learning Forum section provides case-based learning materials. We post contributions from students on our community blog, Speaking of Medicine. Read more about the student section of the blog to find out how you can contribute.

Why should patients, their families, and their friends read PLOS Medicine?

According to the Pew Foundation, in the United States alone every year more than 100 million people go on-line in search of medical information. PLOS Medicine provides a new opportunity for these patients, their families, and their friends to be fully-informed about the latest medical research and how it relates to them. By offering top-quality, peer-reviewed clinical research free to the public, PLOS Medicine invites non-specialists to join the medical community in learning about important clinical issues. Because every research article is published with a clear and accessible summary written for a general audience, the journal ensures that a public audience can understand how medical research affects their lives.

What is in the magazine section of PLOS Medicine?

In addition to publishing original research articles, PLOS Medicine has a lively and provocative Magazine Section that fosters discussion, debate, and analysis of important issues in health and medical research. The section is global in outlook, with an international authorship, and includes the following features:

  • The Editorial is written by the PLOS Medicine editors.
  • The PLOS Medicine Debate covers important but controversial issues in health policy and practice.
  • Health in Action provides a venue for advocacy groups, healthcare workers, and NGOs to discuss their novel approaches to delivering health care.
  • Policy Forum offers policy makers the chance to debate the challenges and opportunities for improving health care to their constituencies.
  • The Guidelines and Guidance section contains advice on conducting and reporting medical research.
  • Essays are opinion pieces on topics of broad interest to a general medical audience.
  • The Perspectives section gives an expert the chance to discuss the clinical practice or public health implications of a freely-available, published study.
  • Research in Translation discusses a particular drug, treatment, or intervention in the context of translation from early to clinical research or clinical evidence to practice.

How does PLOS Medicine serve those in developing nations?

As an open-access, medical journal with a strong focus on global health, PLOS Medicine provides a resource for health care providers in developing nations. Our open-access license allows policy makers to reproduce and redistribute the journal's content as they see fit, maximizing its local impact through creative reuse, and providing crucial information to practitioners on the front lines. A local official could distribute a copy of an important article to every health professional in the country without fees or special permission. Furthermore, many of the articles, features, forums, and debates we publish address the most pressing health problems in developing nations. In addition, PLOS has a Global Participation Initiative program for those eligible and a Publication Fee Assistance Program for those with demonstrated need. Editorial decisions are made only on the basis of merit, not ability to pay.

How can I support PLOS and PLOS Medicine?

We encourage scientists and physicians to consider submitting to PLOS Medicine manuscripts of the highest possible quality-either research papers or articles for the Magazine section of the journal. In addition to submitting your best work, we need advocates within the community:

  • tell your colleagues about PLOS Medicine
  • if you hear from colleagues about a great piece of research, suggest that they submit it to PLOS for publication
  • sign up to receive alerts and updates from our organization
  • if you are a member of a society, consider whether your society's journals would better serve the community if they were open access

Above all else, PLOS is a community initiative, so if you have thoughts about how we're doing, or if there's a new project you think we should be working on, please let us know.

Publishing your paper in PLOS Medicine

How do papers get reviewed at PLOS Medicine?

We involve the academic community in our peer review process as much as possible. After professional staff have determined that the paper falls within the scope of the journal, and is of a minimum acceptable quality, decisions on whether to send a paper out for in-depth review are made via a collaboration between experienced, professional editors who work full time at PLOS, and academic editors who are experts in their field. In this system, all papers within the scope of the journal—even those rejected without peer review—receive ample consideration. The academic editors remain involved at all levels of the review process, through the oversight of revisions to the final acceptance of a paper.

What are the turnaround times for submissions to the journal?

It is essential that authors submit a presubmission inquiry before submitting a full paper. Presubmission inquiries allow authors to find out within 2 working days whether their paper is likely to be broadly suitable for PLOS Medicine. If a full submission is sent to peer review, authors can expect the decision and reviews within 6 weeks of submission. Since we are not constrained by page budgets, papers are published around 6 weeks from the date of final acceptance, or according to an expedited schedule when necessary. All phases of the process can be tracked via through our submission system.

Measures of Impact

At PLOS, we believe that articles in all journals should be assessed on their own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which they were published.  PLOS journals have therefore initiated a program to provide a growing set of measures and indicators of impact at the article level that will include citation metrics, usage statistics, blogosphere coverage, social bookmarks and expert assessment. The long-term vision is to bring the views and activities of entire communities to bear, using the wealth of opportunities offered online, to provide new, meaningful and efficient mechanisms for research assessment. For more information on article-level metrics see the PLOS blog.

Will all PLOS articles be published in English?

Our journals are published in English, but in the future we would like to be able to make our publications available in multiple languages. As a first step, we encourage authors to submit translations of their abstracts or even whole articles and these are published as supplementary information. Our license agreement, the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, also allows anyone to make and distribute translations, as long as they give credit to the original authors.

How will PLOS Medicine articles be archived, and how safe are they?

PLOS Medicine articles are made freely available at our Web site as soon as they are published, and also deposited in PubMed Central. We are also working with various partners to establish similar archives around the world. In addition, our licensing agreement allows any third party—librarian, institution, or individual—to establish their own archive of PLOS articles. The long-term safety of any article depends on the ease with which it can be copied and redistributed in multiple locations, and open-access publishing ensures that archiving will be as simple and secure as possible.

What is the journal's position on competing interests?

Competing interests are a factor in the consideration of a submitted manuscript. All authors are contacted via e-mail during the submission process and asked to declare whether they have any financial, personal, or professional interests that could be construed to have influenced the reporting of the experimental data or conclusions in their paper. See our policy for more general information on the policy of PLOS towards competing interests. Reviewers are also asked to declare any interests that might interfere with their objective assessment of a manuscript. Any relevant competing interests will be stated in the published article.