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Amid your academic journal’s release of usual articles and issues it can be nice to occasionally change things up for your reader base and do something a little special (pun intended). We’re talking about special issues, which present the opportunity to zone in on a specific topic of interest within your journal’s field.

A successful special issue highlights the most timely work being done on the issue topic. Journals usually elect one or more expert guest editors to manage a special issue and help solicit quality articles for it. Your editorial team will have to develop a process for working with guest editors and helping to manage your special issues.

Special issues will require some additional work on the part of your editorial team, but done right they can be organized with relative ease. The benefits that a special issue can bring your journal, including exposure to a larger readership, new reviewers, and increased overall interest in your publication, will make it well worth the effort.

Whether you’re compiling a special issue for the first time or looking to improve your current process, here are 3 tips to help your journal launch a successful special issue.

Solicit special issue topic ideas from your readers

The success of your journal’s special issue begins with its topic. You don’t want to pick just any topic to highlight, as specific topics often have more narrow appeal. Rather, you want to pick a specific topic that is widely discussed within your journal’s discipline. Your special issue should be tight in scope but broad in interest.

One of the clearest ways to determine which special issue topics will pique your readers’ attention is to ask them what they’d be most interested in reading about. Your editorial team can do this informally by reaching out to your full editorial board, reviewer base, and email list (if you have one) and asking for special issue topic suggestions. When you solicit special issue suggestions you’ll likely get trickling replies over time.

If you’re looking for a quick consensus on the best pick for a special issue topic, it helps to have some ideas in mind and ask your editorial team and readers to pick among them. You can do this by creating a 1-question survey using a free tool like SurveyMonkey and asking which topic among a set of choices respondents would be most interested in reading a special issue about. To come up with special issue topic ideas you can look at which topics are trending in your discipline on social media, in academic and mainstream news, and at conferences among other outlets.

If your journal plans to regularly produce special issues you may also want to add a section to your website on how to propose a special issue, like this example from The Sociological Review. Your special issues guidelines page should include whom to send special issue ideas to, the scope of special issue topic areas you accept, and your journal’s requirements for special issue proposals.

Have clear guidelines for organizing your special issue and working with guest editors

Your editorial team must set clear expectations for each special issue you produce with regard to the scope of the special issue topic, how you’ll solicit articles, and how you’ll coordinate peer review for the special issue with any guest editors you appoint to manage it. Before deciding on any workflow particulars, it’s best to define a special issue focus among your internal editorial team. A good way to do this is to identify all the sub-topics you’d like your special issue to cover under the umbrella of your chosen special issue topic, as well as broader connections between your special issue topic and other topics within your journal’s discipline on which you’d consider submissions. Once your internal editorial board has outlined a clear scope for the special issue, bring in your guest editors and make sure they concur. From there you’ll want to work with your guest editors on developing a strategy to solicit quality articles for the issue including:

  • Adding a call for special issue papers to your website
  • Directly reaching out to authors working on leading research in the special issue area
  • Soliciting special issue submissions via yours and your editors’ online channels

Once you have a plan to organize your special issue the next step is deciding on a peer review workflow. If you use peer review software you can likely invite your special issue editors to that platform and use its submission tagging and tracking functionality to manage the special issue. Whatever tools you use you’ll just want to have a clear process for who will do initial technical manuscript review, who will decide if each manuscript should go to review, who will assign reviewers, and so forth. If you have a small team and expect your guest editor to handle most or all managing editor duties for the special issue, make that clear up front and ensure that they will have the time needed to devote to your special issue. Once you have a process in place be sure to have weekly check-ins with your guest editors to stay up-to-date on the progress of your special issue.

Promote your special issue via relevant outlets

Finally, the key to any successful special issue is promotion! You should start promoting your special issue well in advance. When you start soliciting articles for the special issue promote your call for papers and share details of what readers can expect from the special issue via your journal’s:

  • Social media outlets, like Twitter and Facebook
  • Blog or newsletter
  • Email list
  • Website - feature a call for papers on your homepage!
  • Announcements section in your current issue

By sharing the news of your journal’s upcoming special issue well in advance you’ll attract more submissions and generate more interest in the upcoming publication. Once your special issue is released repeat all the promotional steps you took to announce its publication. If you’re not sure of the exact publication date to use in early promotions for the special issue don’t worry - just list the month or season readers can expect it.

Remember, your editorial board’s professional networks are also an invaluable outlet for sharing publication news. Remind your editors to mention the special issue in one-on-one conversations and at any events they attend. You should also ask your special issue’s guest editors to promote the special issue call for papers among their circles that are most interested in the topic both in person and in any relevant forums in which they participate.

We hope you find these tips useful! Do you have any additional suggestions for producing a successful special issue? Post them in the comments section or on twitter by tweeting to @scholasticahq!

Danielle Padula

This post was written by Danielle Padula,
Community Development