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Publish with us

Be our guest: editing a special issue

July 17, 2020 | 5 min read

By Catherine Carnovale

JISA workshop participants

Learning from a practical ECR workshop on the guest editor role

Pictured above: Participants at the 2019 JISA guest editor workshop

For early career researcher (ECRs), establishing a name for yourself isn't just limited to your performance inside the lab, out in the field or in the library.While positions on Editorial Boards are usually reserved for more experienced researchers, the opportunity to guest edit a special issue can be a great way for ECRs to gain editorial experience and provide a boost to their career. On the flipside, even the most established journals acknowledge the role guest editors play in bridging communities and bringing new ideas to the table.

Wondering what the path to becoming a guest editor looks like? As an early career researcher, you may already be on it! ECRs make up a significant proportion of the average journal’s authorship, and as such, are well positioned to be editors of the future. Having your research published in a journal is the perfect way to get your foot in the door to becoming a guest editor. But what exactly does a guest editor do, and how can you find out more?

To shed some light on guest editorship and give a group of ECRs some practical insights into the role, Elsevier and the Journal of Information Security and Applicationsopens in new tab/window ran a workshop in September 2019 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automationopens in new tab/window in Beijing.

The participants - ECRs from the National Laboratory of Pattern Recognition – were established authors but wanted to know how they could develop their editorial skills and expand their role further.

The workshop gave participants a valuable grounding in the special issue process – from selection through development to publication – and highlighted how ECRs can gain useful experience on a journal by being part of a guest editorial team. Publishing Content Specialist Hong Liopens in new tab/window, explained the process in terms of an “editorial ladder’ where journal readers become authors, then guest editors and then have the opportunity to be considered as editorial board members and even editors in due course.

I enjoyed this event a lot… I was happy to learn more about … being a (guest) editor, a role which presents various rewards - as well as challenges - and generates many interactions between editors, peer reviewers and publishers.

- Associate Professor Jing Dong, National Laboratory of Pattern Recognition, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

During the workshop, attendees were able to raise questions and hear advice directly from Editor-in-Chief Professor Anthony T.S. Hoopens in new tab/window.

Professor Ho’s take away tips for future guest editors are:

  • Special issue proposals should highlight the latest and most relevant themes within the scope of the journal.

  • Give thought to the composition of the guest editorial team. Ideally there should be two-five editors from different institutions and countries with varied research backgrounds and experience. Less experienced editors are encouraged to form teams which include more experienced researchers.

  • Set schedules and deadlines appropriately. Think realistically about the overall timetable to allow for paper submission, review, author notification, revision and final decision on each paper. Remember a special issue moves at the pace of its slowest constituent.

From a Publisher’s perspective, we see a great deal of trust being placed in guest editors. A special issue should be complementary to the journal’s regular content and the guest editor team must ensure that they uphold all ethical standards in place for the journal. A common pitfall for guest editors is succumbing to the temptation to invite close colleagues to perform reviews. After all, inviting well known researchers to perform reviews on the papers within a special issue can be a nerve-wracking experience! What if they decline? The workshop gave advice on how to select independent reviewers to ensure the review process is carried out fairly and transparently. This includes full disclosure of conflicts of interest by all parties as well as the use of the relevant submission system for all correspondence to ensure transparency.

In addition to preserving ethical standards, guest editors are also entrusted to maintain the level of quality of the journal’s publications. Having responsibility for clicking the “reject” button can weigh deeply, however it is an unavoidable reality of the role. Guest editors often find this aspect difficult which may give them a tendency to be more lenient. As this could lead to papers being accepted which should ordinarily be revised or rejected, the final editorial decision for special issue papers usually remains with either a designated special issues editor or the Editor-in-Chief. This allows guest editors to demonstrate their aptitude for making editorial decisions under the guidance of more seasoned editors and should be seen as a beneficial partnership.

For those of you who weren’t able to join us at the workshop, we still hope we can inspire you to learn more about the special issue process and submit a proposal to your journal of choice. To learn more about becoming a guest editor, visit our editor hub. We hope that some of you will go on to kickstart your editorial career by becoming a guest editor. If this has piqued your interest into shaping the path of science in your area, step up and be our guest!

Further resources


Catherine Carnovale


Catherine Carnovale

Associate Publisher, Computer Science