Guide to Publishing Special Issues and Supplements

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.

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 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 collections of papers that deal with related issues or topics, are published as a separate issue of the journal or as part of a regular issue, and may be funded by sources other than the journal’s publisher. Because funding sources can bias the content of supplements through the choice of topics and viewpoints, journals should adopt the following principles, which also apply to theme issues or special series that have external funding and/or guest editors:

  • The journal editor must be given and must take full responsibility for the policies, practices, and content of supplements, including complete control of the decision to select authors, peer reviewers, and content for the supplement. Editing by the funding organization should not be permitted.
  • The journal editor has the right to appoint one or more external editors of the supplement and must take responsibility for the work of those editors.
  • The journal editor must retain the authority to send supplement manuscripts for external peer review and to reject manuscripts submitted for the supplement with or without external review. These conditions should be made known to authors and any external editors of the supplement before beginning editorial work on it.
  • The source of the idea for the supplement, sources of funding for the supplement’s research and publication, and products of the funding source related to content considered in the supplement should be clearly stated in the introductory material.
  • Advertising in supplements should follow the same policies as those of the primary journal.
    Journal editors must enable readers to distinguish readily between ordinary editorial pages and supplement pages.
  • Journal and supplement editors must not accept personal favors or direct remuneration from sponsors of supplements.
  • Secondary publication in supplements (republication of papers published elsewhere) should be clearly identified by the citation of the original paper and by the title.
  • The same principles of authorship and disclosure of relationships and activities discussed elsewhere in this document should be applied to supplements.