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Highlighting the strengths of a journal

The merits of Virtual Special Issues

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Environmental and Experimental Botany (EEB) publishes research papers and reviews on the responses of plants to their environment. I have been Editor-in-Chief since 2004 and, in 2010, Dr Kari Taulavuori (University of Oulu, Finland) joined me as the second Editor-in-Chief, specializing in the ecophysiology of northern plants under global change.

Launching virtual special issues
In 2011, we agreed on an editorial policy to annually publish thematic special issues covering hot topics within the scope of EEB. In addition to these, we decided to launch a series of virtual special issues; special issues brought together around a theme using content already published on SciVerse ScienceDirect. Once a theme has been selected, we use ScienceDirect and Scopus to make a search based on keywords. We focus our search on papers published in recent years and select papers which are highly cited and which provide novel advances in their domains.

Once compiled, the virtual special issues are hosted on our EEB journal homepage on Elsevier.com, with the articles linking directly to the full-text articles on ScienceDirect. Marketing campaigns are then carried out promoting the virtual special issues to authors. The aim in launching this series was to emphasize particular topics where papers published in EEB had been highly cited. And through promoting these papers, we wished not only to increase downloads and citations to the papers included, but to encourage authors to submit more papers in these areas.

Choosing the themes
In agreement with Kari and with Ursula Culligan (our Publisher) I decided upon four themes for the virtual special issues; salt tolerance in plants; temperature; light quality and intensity; and water dynamics.  These themes were some of the key topics covered by papers published in regular issues and had not been covered by special issues published in the Journal.  These four virtual special issues are hosted on our EEB journal homepage.

Response to the campaigns
We have had positive responses to the four email campaigns which can be gauged from the high opening rates of the emails, the increase in downloads on ScienceDirect for the articles included, and the positive responses from individual authors who have contacted us. The graph below, prepared by Helena Stewart (Senior Marketing Manager), shows the ScienceDirect full-text downloads per month for the articles included in each of the four virtual special issues. The numbers in black show the actual number of full-text downloads the articles received the month each virtual special issue was promoted. For each of the virtual special issues we can see a clear surge in usage.

Virtual Special Issues

Positive aspects
My experience is that virtual special issues have been a useful tool in highlighting content to our authors. The varying interest in the different virtual special issues has also indicated to us the topics our readers are particularly interested in. We plan to continue with the series and, in the long term, we are hoping that they will lead to an increase in citations for the papers involved and will encourage authors to submit papers in these areas to our Journal.

In conclusion, I think that building a virtual special issue is an exciting way for an Editor to highlight the strengths of a Journal and I welcome any comments you may have.

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