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Joona Räsänen

I have edited a few special issues. All the papers for them went through normal peer-review process. The only real difference was that it was the guest editor who selected referees etc. Revisions were required and so on. But since there is usually a clear deadline to get the issue ready, multiple rounds of revisions might not be allowed. Also, the guest editor might check the revised paper herself rather than sending it back to referees to save some time.

If you are worried that people don't think publications in special issues are "real publications" there is no need to mention in your CV/list of publications that the paper was part of a special issue.


Ten-plus years ago, it was common for CVs to indicate special issue publications as such. As far as I can see, nobody does so any more. My sense is that it used to be common for special issues to be composed of invited pieces reviewed primarily by the editors rather than going through anonymized peer review, whereas now they pretty much all seem to consist of anonymized submissions that go through a regular review process (plus editorial review--I tend to get three sets of reports).

So: I don't see a good reason to mark it out as a special issue publication, or for committees to discount it.

On the practical side, I have two special issue pubs and am sitting on one R&R (and have several planned for the near future). One of the pubs was a conditional acceptance, the other an R&R. I wouldn't say reports were faster, but for 2/3 they were timelier--the deadlines for the editors meant the review process couldn't drag on forever.

The main advantage, as I see it, is that the journal has committed to publishing several papers on a single theme in a single issue. So your paper isn't competing with hundreds of others, all on different topics; it's competing against a dozen or two for one of five or so slots. (Otherwise, the journal might take a year or more to publish that many papers on the topic (or it might almost never do so!) and your timing for your submission might just tip the scales against you.)

So: I think that looking out for special issues is a fine way to build your CV. (If nothing else, it's a way of gleaning paper ideas. But when I submit to one, I figure that I'm increasing my odds of publication from very low to moderate, simply because the journal is committed to publishing on the topic. Since I work in an area that's very poorly represented in top generalist venues, that's a big boon.)


Concurring with the second commenter--Earlier versions of my CV painstakingly marked special issues as such. Now, I don't do it anymore. For one thing it's impossible to discern how rigorous peer review was (this varies a lot between special issues). Even being invited is not a guarantee for publication: I've sent a paper to a special issue once that got a negative referee report and thus a rejection. I resubmitted it to another journal, and it's (for the time of publication) already very well cited. It has not only been cited but also discussed as an explicit position in the literature. The first referee didn't like it, but that doesn't mean the paper is bad. A lot of refereeing is down to luck. So, in my view as a midcareer scholar, the proof of a paper lies not so much in whether it survives the capricious process of peer-review but on its subsequent uptake. A more prestigious venue might make it more likely the uptake will be bigger. But I've noticed that papers I only was able to place in specialist or less prestigious (but still reputable) journals do often just as well, if not better.
Special issue papers are a way to get things out there. It is sometimes the case that the process of vetting is a bit lighter, but even then, editors will make sure that there is a vetting process in place. To me, special issues help you to get things out. The ultimate proof of papers lies more in their uptake and subsequent discussion than in the initial vetting, in my view (where there is always some luck involved. Of course, luck plays at any stage). I'd say, go for it!


Journals that run special issues are increasingly cognizant that these can be seen as an 'easy' route into the journal (and maybe they once were). As a result, editors increasingly subject special issue manuscripts, whether invited or via open CFP, to standard peer-review process. Given this, I don't see why it is important to flag that a publication is for a special issue, since people do seem to make incorrect assumptions about ease of publication in these.

moderately experienced researcher

This is an interesting question. My thought is that publishing in special issues is easier than in regular issues.

Normally you need to convince the editors that the research on topic X is interesting. Then, the paper goes for an external review and editors quite frequently just look for an excuse to throw the paper into the bin. Special issue editors seem to operate differently: they have some knowledge of topic X, and they have a positive attitude towards the topic, they want it to be promoted, and developed. So, they may be more inclined to appoint better reviewers and more inclined to order R&R verdicts.

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