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Guide to Publishing Special Issues

Many journals will publish special issues or special sections. These may be themed around a topic that is particularly current, to coincide with some event or conference, or to mark a significant individual.


Why publish a special issue?

Special issues usually attract more attention than regular issues, perhaps because the articles may be commissioned. As a consequence the articles are often read more and highly cited.


Special issues can also be good for the discipline, drawing attention to a particular topic. However, too many special issues can lead to copy backlogs if not carefully managed because they add an issue worth of content on top of the usual flow of submissions.


Ideas for new special issues may come from a variety of sources. They may arise from editorial board meetings, come from someone in the field, or be solicited with a call for proposals.


Remember to keep colleagues, like your marketer, production editor, and publisher contact, informed about special issues. In the same way, ensure that you are kept in the loop by asking the guest editors to copy you into relevant emails.


Guest Editors

Special issues may be handled by the journal's editor(s), but often they are handled by one or more guest editors. For some guest editors, this will be their first experience of editing a journal, so you may want to provide guest editors with extra support and advice:


  • Make them aware of the standards used by the journal, including expectations for rigorous peer review and ethical behavior.
  • Write a set of guidelines that can be sent to guest editors when they are appointed.
  • Offer a demo of the EEO system, if applicable, and make any relevant user guides available to them.


Call for Papers

Guest editors may choose to directly commission papers from colleagues in the field or they may choose to put out a call for papers.


You may be asked to send the call for papers to previous submitters via a broadcast email. Be careful that this communication is worded appropriately. A call for papers is open to everyone; you do not want to give the impression that one individual is being singled out for a special invitation. The call for papers should also clearly state that papers will be peer-reviewed and may be rejected.


If the guest editors are soliciting proposals for submissions, you may be asked to keep track of these. Be sure to keep a record of which proposals the guest editor accepted so you know which submissions to accept.


Keeping to Time

Unlike standard submissions, where the article is assigned to an issue only after acceptance, special issues may be assigned to a fixed issue. This means special issue articles may have to meet specific deadlines.

If this is the case, then it is important to monitor special issue submissions. Remember that guest editors may be unfamiliar with publishing and may have unrealistic expectations about how quickly papers can be turned around. If the special issue is slated for publication in a particular issue, make the guest editor aware of the production deadline for that issue very early in the process.


Ensure that the reviewer database can cope with the number of papers being submitted on just one topic and that existing reviewers will not be overwhelmed by the number of papers in their area. Consider asking the special issue editors to provide a list of reviewers who are specialists on the topic and check that those reviewers are happy to review.



Supplements are additional issues of the journal, which may be published separately or with a regular issue. The majority of supplements are for Health Science journals, less common for Life Science or Physical Science journals, and rare for SSH.


There are three types of supplements: abstracts, commercial and non-commercial. While supplements will be available to subscribers of the journal, they may also have a much wider dissemination.


Though the sponsor may have a certain interest in supporting a supplement, supplements are not adverts. Supplements are subject to the approval of the editor-in-chief of the journal and supplement articles are subject to peer review, copyright, and the same ethical standards as normal articles.


If your journal works with a professional publisher, much of the process around supplements will be handled by them.


For some supplements the articles will be reviewed independently by the guest editor and approved by the editor-in-chief, so you may never be involved. For some supplements the articles follow the same peer-review workflow as standard articles. If this is the case then the editor should receive a full contents list for the supplement so you know which articles to accept.


An abstracts supplement, say for a conference, will usually bypass the editorial office and go straight to the supplements team.