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Why wait for a good thing? Introducing the new special issue workflow

May 2, 2018 | 4 min read

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New SI publication process brings faster publication times and more flexibility


Special issues are a great way to generate attention for specific topics or events. They can take longer to publish though, since all papers need to be ready first. As such, an occasional late submission can delay the publication of the whole issue, which can be frustrating for authors whose papers were finalized early on. Looking for ways to speed up the publication of special issues, we developed a new publication process in which the articles are published on an individual basis. This innovative approach towards publishing special issues has resulted in much faster publication times and a significantly higher author satisfaction rate. Based on the positive feedback that we received, we have rolled out the process to more journals so that the authors of nearly 1,500 titles can now benefit from this enhanced workflow.

Further benefits

Apart from being faster, the new special issue publication process brings further benefits:

  • Special issues using the new process perform better on search engines than those published via the traditional workflow

  • Articles get full citation details (volume, issue, page numbers) at an earlier stage than was possible with the traditional process (something we know is important for many authors). As a result, reports show an average reduction in article publication times of 13 weeks.

  • The new workflow affords the guest editor and journal manager significantly more flexibility to manage the special issue as it is possible to reorder, add and remove papers at any time

In the early days, out of necessity, new special issues were organized separately on ScienceDirect, but since the start of 2018 there is no longer any distinction from traditional special issues. Happily, despite the fact that SIs are no longer published as separate issues, there has been no impact on citation and download numbers. “Today’s digital workflows allow us to break free from the limitations of the print-led legacies, with many obvious benefits for our authors and readers as a result" commented Bernard Aleva, Senior Vice President, Elsevier Global Publishing Development.

How it works

Nothing changes in the editorial process up to the point of acceptance. Manuscripts are submitted through the special issue portal of the submission system and go through peer review as usual. Once a manuscript is accepted it is published in the journal’s first available regular issue and simultaneously appears in an online special issue space. This special issue grows as more articles are accepted. Within the regular issue, the special issue articles can be grouped under a special issue section header and it is also possible to indicate that the article belongs to a special issue in the abstract or via a footnote.

What it looks like

Science of the Total Environmentopens in new tab/window is one of the early adopters of the new special issue publication process. The journal has published several special issues using the new process, one of which is Water Management Practice: connecting different perspectivesopens in new tab/window.

As you can see from the above, there is space for introductory text, which highlights the theme(s) of the special issue and which can be updated until the special issue is finalized. The introductory piece can also act as a temporary placeholder while the editorial is being drafted.

Author (and editor) satisfaction

Editors and authors have reacted positively to the new workflow. In the Author Feedback Programme, the statement "After the article was accepted, the final article was published online in a reasonable time" was rated significantly higher by authors of special issues that followed the new process than for the classic process to the tune of 95% vs 83%.

Publishing my article in the Special Issue of Chemosphere (Brominated Flame Retardants) was very quick and easy in terms of the publishing process, and the Special Issue has provided me with a better opportunity to highlight my research findings to the specialists in my field.

- Kim Fernie, author

The new process contributes greatly to the research community in a number of ways, particularly serving as a rapid dissemination of the latest developments in an emerging area or originating from the pioneering work of an eminent leader.

- Jan van Mill, Co-Editor-in-Chief Topology and its Applicationsopens in new tab/window

This is an excellent initiative. Besides providing a comprehensive and state-of-the-art coverage on a given topic, it is faster as compared to regular special issues.

- Professor Damià Barceló Cullerès, Co-Editor-in-Chief, Science of the Total Environmentopens in new tab/window

In conclusion

We hope you are as enthusiastic about the new special issue workflow as we are. We will continue to develop and enhance the process but if you have any questions, remarks or suggestions in the meanwhile then please comment below (or if you are an editor, feel free to contact your Publisher).