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Guest editor guide


Unless you have been approached directly by the Editor-in-Chief of a journal or another member of its editorial or publishing team, you will need to submit a proposal to guest edit a special issue to the relevant editorial office. If you are contemplating a special issue proposal, you might find the following recommendations helpful.

Preparing a proposal for a special issue

Working together with any other guest editors, you should prepare a proposal that, in addition to observing any special guidelines which are imposed by the journal's guide for authors or special issue guide (if any):

  • Sets out the importance of the area on which the special issue will focus;

  • Explains how the anticipated contribution of the special issue will advance understanding in this area;

  • Identifies papers and authors for possible inclusion in the special issue, with a brief description of each paper. (These papers do not need to have been written at this time, although it might be the case that work is already in progress.);

  • Indicates the timeframe in which the special issue could be produced (to include paper writing, reviewing and submission of final copy to the journal) assuming the proposal is accepted;

  • Includes a short biography of all authors and guest editors;

  • Indicates any special timing, associated events, funding support, partnerships or other links or relationships which could influence the development of the issue;

  • Provides any further information which you feel is relevant.

A special issue normally contains between five and 20 full-length articles, in addition to an editorial written by the special issue organizers. Because it is highly unlikely that all articles submitted for potential inclusion in a special issue will successfully pass the peer review process, it is wise to consider more papers than you anticipate as the upper limit. If fewer than three articles are accepted for publication, the articles will be published as stand-alone articles in the journal.

Once you're ready, use the link below to find your chosen journal and submit your proposal.

Ethical responsibilities of guest editors

Please note that special issues are subject to the same strict and rigorous ethical principles as regular journal issues. If unethical practices are detected, a special issue will be cancelled by the Editor-in-Chief.

Note: this information is a subset of the overall ethical duties of guest editors who should note in particular the information and advice provided on ethical editing, the duties specified in editor contracts, and the importance of maintaining transparency throughout the special issue publication process. In addition, the following guidelines must be observed:

Journal metrics

The guest editor shall not attempt to influence the journal’s ranking by artificially increasing any journal metric.

Transparency and process

The guest editor shall use the electronic submission system for all journal communications and make appropriate use of the Elsevier’s systems for the detection of plagiarism.


The guest editor should protect the confidentiality of all material submitted to the journal and all communications with reviewers. Unless the journal is operating an open peer review system or reviewers have agreed to disclose their names, the guest editor must not disclose reviewers’ identities.

Disclosure and conflicts of interest

The guest editor should follow the journal’s policy relating to the disclosure of conflicts of interest by authors and reviewers.

The special issue may publish submissions from the guest editor but the number should normally not exceed one (except where specifically approved by the Editor-in-Chief and Elsevier). The guest editor must not be involved in decisions about papers in which s/he has written him/herself. Peer review of any such submission should be handled independently of the relevant guest editor/co-editor and their research groups, and there should be a clear statement to this effect on any such paper that is published.

The submission process

Elsevier uses an online submission and review system. The submission and peer review of special issue papers must be managed using this system. In addition to reading the material contained below, you should also familiarize yourself with any journal-specific guidelines which will be available on the journal’s homepage.

The peer-review process

Selection of papers and decision process

You are responsible, in cooperation with any other guest editor(s) for the special issue, for ensuring that the review process is conducted in an appropriate manner and in line with normal review practices for the journal. You shall consult with the Editor-in-Chief about the refereeing procedure to be adopted.

This selection of papers should be based on the scientific quality of the content and the topic should clearly fall within the scope of the special issue and the journal hosting it.

You will typically make the preliminary decision on all manuscripts based on reviews but all manuscripts (and revisions) will then be transferred to the Editor-in-Chief who normally has the sole right to review and/or reject any manuscript or arrange for any manuscript(s) to be independently peer reviewed prior to final acceptance for publication.

Selection of reviewers

As guest editor, you should select reviewers who have suitable expertise in the field and must review all disclosures of potential conflicts of interest made by reviewers in order to determine whether there is any potential for bias.

Research articles must typically be reviewed by at least two external and independent reviewers, and where necessary you should seek additional opinion. The guest editor must follow best practice guidance provided by the Publisher on avoiding the selection of fraudulent peer reviewers. You might find the information available on the Elsevier's Reviewer Hub useful in this regard.

Publication process

Guest editors and authors should be aware that most Elsevier journals now publish all special issues as virtual special issues (VSIs).

A VSI is an online-only grouping of special issue articles traditionally assigned to a single special issue. Each article in a VSI is assigned a unique identifier and then published in a regular journal issue as soon as available. The unique identifier allows us to simultaneously add the article to a VSI on ScienceDirect which is gradually built up as individual articles are published online. Articles grouped together in a VSI retain their original citation details.


Example of an article from a VSI on ScienceDirect

On ScienceDirect, a VSI is listed alongside regular journal issues and is easily accessible and navigable. A VSI homepage includes a guest editor listing, table of contents and other data relevant to the VSI. A VSI speeds up the publication of individual articles as, unlike the publication process for conventional special issue articles, a VSI does not need to wait for the final article to be ready before publication.

The benefits of VSIs include:

  • Reduced overall publication times

  • Reduced waiting time & increased author satisfaction

  • Lower risk of error for incorrect publication of SI content due to increased flexibility for moving/adding/removing items from VSIs, without affecting citation details

The implementation of a VSI has no impact in the editorial workflow for editors, guest editors and authors; the impact is simply on the way articles are displayed online and on the print version of the journal, where a special issue will not be clustered in one single issue. Once the complete SI is published, the guest editor(s) will be provided with Share Links of the entire issue, ideal for fast and broad dissemination to a wide network.