Over the past decade, special issues of journals have become an important part of the scholarly publishing landscape in politics and international studies. While special issues may be commissioned by editorial teams, increasingly journals are issuing calls for submissions that include proposals for special issues. Politics even has a Special Issues section of its blog. In this post, I will discuss five things that can help your special issue proposal get selected.
5 Tips for Special Issue Proposals
- It is extremely important to identify a gap that falls across several sub-fields to which your proposed special issue will respond and provide new insights. Even better is to identify a gap within an emerging topic area or field such that your special issue potentially becomes one of the first collective engagements with it.
- That being said, a special issue also needs to go beyond providing a collection of papers that focus on a specific theme, topic, or approach that addresses a gap in the literature. As a collection, the special issue proposal needs to demonstrate its innovative components. A strongly supported claim must be presented with respect to its original contribution and wider significance. For a specialist journal, the originality and significance can be pitched for subject experts. For a generalist journal, these will need to be presented for specialists and non-specialists alike. Thus, it is important to foreground what is innovative about your special issue, its collective original contribution, the significance of the collective contribution, and to do so in a way that is appropriate for the readership of the journal you are targeting.
- While special issues are about the curation of a coherent collection of papers, each paper still must be able to stand on its own. Contemporary research practices mean that most papers are found through database searches. Thus, readers may not necessarily be aware that an article is a part of a special issue. As such, the standard rules for what gets a paper published and eventually cited apply: each individual contribution to the special issue needs to explicitly articulate its original contribution, the significance of this contribution to the topic area–but also more broadly–and in what ways it is innovative. These questions need to be explicitly answered in the abstracts that are provided.
- You need to have interesting participants who will contribute leading-edge submissions rather than papers that are derivative of their existing work. Thus, it is not necessary, nor necessarily beneficial, to have an entire roster full of big names who are approaching their ‘best by date’. In bringing together a group of collaborators, it is important that any big names that you secure will deliver their best material—the special issue may mean more to you than it does to them. The last thing you want is a paper that has been phoned-in. Often, the best special issues contain a mixture of established scholars with reputations for outstanding work and emerging researchers whose work is positioned at the leading edge of the field.
- You need to demonstrate that you and/or your co-proposers have previous editorial/peer review experience. You also need to provide a convincing account about how you will engage with all of the special issue papers throughout the review process. Engagement should include quality control processes prior to submission such as an initial vetting, working directly with authors through the revisions process, and being prepared to convey tough messages and hard decisions should these become necessary at any stage along the way. Start by reading Politics‘ pointers on writing a good referee report for tips on providing valuable feedback. Attrition is likely to be a part of the peer review process and thus you need to demonstrate that you will be able to work with editorial teams to convey decline decisions to authors. Similarly, editors of journals prefer to work with people who will help them to get papers to the highest possible standard. This again may involve some difficult conversations with your special issue collaborators, including fairly blunt directives about undertaking revisions and/or chasing promised drafts. Thus, if you are an early career researcher, it may be advantageous to work with more established colleagues in the management of a special issue.
In sum, special issues proposals require a lot of careful consideration. However, when successful, special issues are great way to make a definitive statement about the state of the art by providing a significant collective contribution to an emerging field of study.