Special or themed issues can be a great way to focus attention on a topic of crucial interest.
A good special issue can enhance the profile of the journal, attract top authors, and support usage and citations.
Five benefits of publishing special issues:
- Enhance the profile of the journal. By publishing topical, relevant and timely ‘must-have’ content on hot topics it demonstrates that the journal is topical and relevant.
- Strong potential to support usage and citation activity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that special issue articles are read more widely than regular articles when the special issue is successful.
- Garner loyalty to the journal amongst guest editors and authors through their involvement with the special issue.
- Conference association. Offering special issues following specific conferences may provide an opportunity to develop and/or consolidate relationships with prestigious conferences or societies. They also create space for very new or novel topics that are likely to be presented on at conferences for the first time.
- Enhance diverse geographical coverage in the journal. Enlisting the assistance of a guest editor in a country or region where you would like to encourage submissions is a good way of spreading the word about the journal and encouraging further submissions and involvement. Similarly, enlisting the assistance of a guest editor in a country where the journal lacks diversity could be a good way to encourage more authors and editorial board members from that region.
Where to start?
Special issues need to be planned well in advance; it can take between 12–18 months from issuing a call for papers to publication. Taking longer than 18 months might mean that the special issue loses timeliness, although some journals plan several years in advance. There are no hard and fast rules for planning special issues, but below are some general guidelines.
- Publish at least one special issue per volume. This allows you to take advantage of the opportunities a themed issue can provide, including attracting and diversifying you journal’s authorship.
- Solicit ideas for concepts or themes that merit a special issue from your board. You can also use usage data from SAGE to identify popular topics and trends. You could invite proposals for special issues from your readers and/or you can decide to publish an open call for Special Issues on your journal’s website. You can find A template Call for special issue proposals here.
- Appoint a guest editor to handle the special issue on your behalf. They should be an expert on the subject of the special issue and ideally will be sufficiently well-networked internationally to bring top authors and articles to the journal. Guest editors should be responsive, and well-organized. Encourage the guest editor to develop a proposal summarizing the rationale for the issue, the approach they envision taking and the areas they wish to cover. If accepted, such proposal can then be developed in a Call for Paper. You can find a template Call for Paper here.
- Ensure that your guest editor understands the nature of their commitment and their commitment to SAGE peer review best practice, including restrictions around recommended reviewers, and best practices for guest edited collections as recommended by COPE. You want to consider establishing a contract with them, and your publishing editor will be able to help you with that. You may find useful to point guest editors to guidelines in this page: Working with Guest Editors.
- Ensure that contributions from guest editors and their close colleagues (with close professional or personal relationships) are limited to a small part of the content of the guest edited special issue, to avoid real or perceived competing interests, as well as endogeny and publishing cartels.
- Although the guest editor of the collection will primarily select the content for the collection, the editor-in-chief of the journal has ultimate responsibility for queries on scope, competing interests, and peer review issues. If the editor-in-chief has competing interests with the collection, or does not have the capacity to handle more guest edited issues, another relevant editor of the board, or member of the editorial office, should be assigned as the contact and coordinator for these queries.
- Communicate regularly with your guest editor to assess progress. Timely publication of journal issues is extremely important, and you may need to supply an alternate issue at short notice if a special issue is delayed.
- Peer review. Although articles in special issues are often commissioned, they should always be fully peer reviewed in order to support the journal’s reputation for quality and to maintain publishing standards. You should decide whether the peer review process will be handled by the guest editor or by your office. If it is to be handled by the guest editor, then you should ensure that the review process is in line with the journal’s standard practice, and SAGE’s ethical and publishing policies. You should also liaise with the guest editor to ensure that individual board members are not being over-burdened. Remember that as the editor, you’re ultimately responsible for the content published in your journal.
- Diversify Authorship. Ideally, the journal editor and guest editor should work together to help diversify the authorship of the journal where possible. For suggestions on how to do that, read SAGE Taking Action on Diversity page.
A note about timing
Publication date: Where applicable, set a date for when you would like the special issue to be published and share relevant deadlines with the guest editor. It is important that the guest editor sticks to deadlines. As special issues tend to overrun, it is recommended to avoid planning them as the final issue of the volume.
Standard practice is for SI articles to be published Online First as and when they become available ahead of print. Once all articles are ready, they can be grouped together and be assigned to an issue which will follow the running order suggested by the editor or guest editor, if applicable.
Content: Ultimately, you as the editor are responsible for the content, timely delivery of the journal, queries on scope, competing interests, and peer review issues - therefore you should maintain close oversight of the special issue. As the journal editor, you have the final say on manuscript decisions and if any of the material is not up to par, you have the right to refuse publication.
Some special issues may attract Content Sponsorship opportunities. Please contact your publishing editor to learn more about SAGE supplements, reprints and other commercial sales offerings.