Luke Holman, Commissioning Editor of JEB and Associate Professor at Edinburgh Napier University
What is a Special Issue?
Special Issues (SIs) at JEB comprise around a dozen papers centred on a common theme, such as a research topic or methodological framework. For example, we have recently published SIs titled Genetics and genomics of adaptation and Assortative mating for quantitative traits: mechanisms, estimation and evolutionary consequences.
Special Issues are standalone features and will normally replace the Special Issues are standalone features and will normally replace the standard issue in the month of their publication. SIs are conceived and led by Guest Editors—typically members of the evolutionary biology research community who are not members of the JEB editorial board—whose role is explained below.
An SI begins with an Editorial written by the Guest Editors, which introduces the issue (e.g. what are its aims and scope and what motivated it). The Editorial may also introduce each paper featured in the SI, explaining what aspects or perspectives they cover, and review the field. The remainder of the SI comprises papers presenting new data or insights into the SI’s topic, which are written by various authors, many of whom were invited by the Guest Editors.
Special Issues feature their own cover image selected by the Guest Editors and, for example, can be study species, field work photographs or even artwork such as the piece by Tara Okon that featured in our ‘Assortative Mating’ SI .
What is the role of the Guest Editors?
In short, the Guest Editors’ role is to choose the topic of the SI, find authors who can contribute interesting and relevant papers by the deadline, and provide a small amount of guidance as these authors prepare their manuscripts. Guest Editors should ensure that the SI contains a good mixture of complementary papers, without excessive duplication of effort. They are then also (with support from our Managing Editor) responsible for the peer review process for these manuscripts to ensure thorough assessment of the contributions and the timely production of the issue as a whole. It usually takes Guest Editors 9–12 months to compile an SI, starting from their first requests for papers.
Our previous Guest Editors have indicated that they greatly enjoyed the experience of convening an SI. Many of these editors have been Early Career Researchers, who told us that they valued the insight into the publishing process and greatly expanded their scientific networks by interacting with potential authors, reviewers and readers.
SIs typically have two or three Guest Editors, who begin by conceiving the scope and title of the SI, then identifying authors who might contribute to the SI. The editors then communicate with these authors and secure commitments to contribute papers, drawing up a provisional table of contents for the SI. In practice, it is very likely that some of the authors invited will not be able to provide their papers by the deadline, and so it is good practice to secure enough commitments for 15–18 papers (i.e. more than the c.12 that we require to fill an issue). It is simple to accommodate an excess of papers, but more difficult to deal with a shortfall. Some Guest Editors gather these commitments entirely through invitations, e.g. by contacting experts in their field or using events like ESEB conference symposia or Special Topic Networks. Others find some of the contributions by publishing a ‘Call for papers’ for the SI on the JEB website, and promoting it via social media and mailing lists.
Authors submit their papers to the SI using the usual JEB submission portal, and the Guest Editor(s) then handle the peer review process via their newly-created Guest Editor account on ScholarOne. Specifically, Guest Editors are asked to secure peer review from qualified and impartial reviewers and to write up their editorial decision (based on the reviews plus their own judgement) regarding the suitability of the manuscript for publication in JEB, and in the SI specifically. Their editorial decision will be screened by a senior member of the JEB editorial board, who verifies that the peer review process and editorial decision letter reflects JEB’s standards, before releasing the Guest Editor’s decision to the author(s). Guest Editors will have the full support of our Managing Editor in the use of the system and keeping everything on track with the peer review process.
Accepted manuscripts destined for publication in the SI will be published online as soon as they are ready (Early View), so that no author is kept waiting for the release of their paper. Once all SI papers are published online, and the Guest Editors’ Editorial is ready, JEB will compile the Special Issue.
Advice for those thinking of producing a JEB Special Issue
First and foremost, the Special Issue should focus on an important and interesting topic in evolutionary biology. Secondly, it is important to select a topic that can fill a Special Issue, since the most challenging task for Guest Editors is securing enough high-quality papers on the right topic within a specified timeframe. In our experience, a Call for Papers cannot be relied upon to produce enough suitable contributions, and we strongly encourage prospective Guest Editors not to rely heavily on a Call to make up the numbers. We encourage Guest Editors to reach out beyond their immediate network (e.g. by reading broadly to identify suitable authors); although SIs often grow out of research conferences, they should not be viewed as conference proceedings. Guest Editors should examine their invitation practices and take steps to ensure that authors from underrepresented groups (e.g. women and authors from the Global South) are not excluded.
Are you interested?
Excellent! In the first instance, you should contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for any informal enquiries. We welcome such initial approaches, though we will eventually ask you to provide the following information (as a single pdf file):
- Names and email addresses of Guest Editors
- Indicate which Guest Editor will as main point of contact
- A provisional title
- A short summary of the topic and its background (250 words max.)
- A statement in support of why an SI on this topic is timely and how it would advance knowledge (max. 1 A4 page)
- A list of potential contributors and subject areas/paper titles, identifying any papers where contributors have already agreed to be involved.
At times, we receive more applications for Special Issues than we have space for in the production schedule, and in these cases the editorial board will apply an internal selection process to the applications. We will prioritise Special Issue proposals with an important and timely topic, which have a high probability of attracting sufficient suitable papers.