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Technical Issues in Publishing

What’s So Special About Special Issues in Publishing?


Dr. Avriel Licciardi, Research Communications Strategist

May 2021

Understanding the potential avenues for publishing your research—and ultimately selecting the best option—are essential skills for all authors regardless of research field. Selecting the right publishing outlet (traditional journal vs. open access journal; special issue vs. regular issue; broad scope vs. specialized scope) ensures you and your manuscript receive the most benefits, including the greatest scientific impact, reaching the appropriate audience, boosting your citations, and more. Here, we highlight the benefits of publishing your article as part of a special issue.

What is a special issue?

A special issue (or special section) is a collection of research articles that focuses on a topical research area within the scope of the journal. Special issues are often themed around a subject that is particularly current, an emerging field, or a new perspective on an existing research matter. Special issues may also describe new cross-disciplinary applications, coincide with a scientific conference/symposium, highlight important subdisciplines, or recognize a prominent individual within the field.

Benefits of submitting to a special issue

Increased visibility. Because special issues are focused, timely and insightful collections, they often attract more attention than regular journal issues. Consequently, special issues may be read more frequently amongst peers in your scientific discipline, leading to active discussion and more citations of your work, thereby maximizing the visibility of your research. Certain publishers, such as Hindawi, actively promote special issues of their journals through social media, search engines and email, assisting you in making your article highly discoverable and reach an international audience.
Faster publication. While workflows for special issues vary by journal and publisher, publishing as part of a special issue may accelerate the publication process. For example, Elsevier has introduced a new publication process in which special issue articles are published on an individual basis. This format avoids publishing delays and overcomes the traditional process where all submissions are required to be complete before a special issue is published. As detailed by Wiley, special issues may be assigned to fixed issues of the journal, and thus, these articles are required to meet specific deadlines, keeping the publication process timely.
Quality control. Special issues follow the same editorial and peer review policies put forward for regular issue journals, such as indexing, rigorous peer review, and editorial supervision. In addition, your manuscript may be handled by a Guest Editor who is likely an influential researcher in the discipline. Submitting or having your article solicited by a Guest Editor of a special issue is invaluable for networking opportunities and potential collaborations.

Where do I find special issue opportunities?

Manuscripts submitted to special issues are typically identified in two ways: 1) Guest editors may directly commission (or invite) papers from selected researchers in the field; or 2) a “call for papers” is announced, which indicates the special issue is open to any scientist wishing to submit their manuscript.

If a journal is running a special issue, the call for papers will likely be listed on the journal’s homepage, social media channels, or scientific society webpage (if associated). Further, some publishers, like Taylor & Francis, provide a database where authors can search for active calls for papers by discipline, thus offering a quick way to identify potential publishing opportunities. We also recommend signing up for all publisher and/or journal email notifications to ensure you receive any announcements related to special issues. Finally, calls for papers are often associated with scientific conferences; these may be announced before, during or after the conference takes place, so stay connected with your community for the most up-to-date information.

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