For the Record: Developing a Special Issue of TCR
by Gary Natriello — December 22, 2014
Guidance on developing a proposal for a special issue of the journal.
From time to time the Teachers College Record features special issues on important themes in education or educational research. Ideas for these special issues come to us in a variety of ways. In some cases the ideas are suggested by leading scholars and members of our editorial board. In other cases the ideas are brought to us by readers. In still other cases the editors develop a theme for an issue in an area they wish to highlight.
SPECIAL ISSUE PROPOSALS
Such special issues typically begin with a proposal, and I want to highlight the key elements in a successful proposal for a special issue of TCR. Each proposal for a special issue is unique based on the theme and the talents of the special issue proponents, but there are some common elements that editors and reviewers typically expect.
All special issue proposals should identify the theme of the proposal and discuss why it is important for the advancement of education or educational research. A theme must rise to a certain level of importance in order to justify an entire issue of the journal. If the theme is particularly timely, noting this will alert the editors to any unique scheduling concerns. For example, scheduling might be of particular concern if the theme relates to an anniversary of an event or if it anticipates a policy decision on the horizon. It is important to recognize that because special issues typically require significant lead time, planning for time sensitive topics must begin well in advance of an anticipated publication date.
Proposals that identify a theme with the expectation that the journal will publish an open call for papers on that theme, should include a draft of the call statement. There are numerous calls for papers from past issues available online that might serve as models. You can find these by typing Call for Papers in the TCR search box. Submissions that result from open calls are directed to special issue editors as they are submitted.
Proposals that identify a theme and a set of possible papers and authors that fit the theme should include the list of possible paper topics along with individuals to be invited to write on these topics. Given the difficulties of securing the time of potential authors, it is helpful to include more than the number of topics and authors that might eventually be included in the issue. Although initial proposals can simply identify authors to be invited to contribute, final proposals should include a list of authors who are committed to writing for the issue along with titles and descriptions of their papers.
Proposals that identify a theme and a set of papers that have already been produced should include at least the titles, authors, and abstracts of the papers. If the papers are in final or near final form, the entire text of each paper can be included along with the proposal. Another possibility would be to include an introductory paper that highlights the content of the issue along with the titles, authors, and abstracts of the remaining papers.
THE ROLE OF THE SPECIAL ISSUE EDITOR(S)
A proposal for a special issue should identify the editors for the special issue and the roles they are prepared to play in developing the issue. In some cases proposals simply suggest a topic that can be developed by one or more of the regular TCR editors with no additional editors for the issue. In other cases one or more individuals may be identified to play the role of special issue editor(s). Special issue editors can be involved in managing the flow of manuscripts received in response to an open call, including inviting anonymous reviewers, coordinating correspondence with authors, and assuming responsibility for editorial development of the manuscripts. Special issue editors can also be involved in selecting reviewers, who may or may not be anonymous, to work as advisors to authors invited to prepare manuscripts. When there are multiple editors for a special issue, the team of editors may decide to handle all reviews among themselves. Individuals identified as special issue editors should be prepared to take on the considerable amount of work entailed in preparing a set of papers for publication.
There are multiple possibilities for organizing the editorial work for a special issue, and the proposal should provide as much detail as possible about how this work will be accomplished. In any case, the editorial responsibilities for the materials in the special issue rest with the special issue editors. A special issue proposal that identifies one or more special issue editors should include background information (often a CV) for any proposed editor.
At TCR proposals for special issues should be submitted as a single document via the online submission system.
THE REVIEW PROCESS
Special issues entail two levels of review. First, the special issue proposal is reviewed for suitability and importance by the editors and selected others. This level of review determines whether the topic justifies an entire issue of the journal and whether the proposed special issue editors are likely to be successful in developing a high quality issue.
Second, the individual papers to be included in a special issue are reviewed following one of the procedures outlined earlier. All papers in TCR must be reviewed, and all papers are subject to final approval by the TCR editors. However, because the special issue proposal review process includes a careful examination of the credentials of the special issue editors, it is customary to provide special issue editors with wide latitude in developing the issue that they proposed.
TIMING AND SCHEDULING
Special issue editors are generally very concerned with developing their issue in a certain period of time and then having it scheduled to appear as soon as possible. The development of a special issue is dependent on an entire set of papers being delivered by diverse authors. As a result the development time for a special issue is difficult to predict. Even a single author who fails to meet a deadline can delay completion of an entire special issue.
Because of the unpredictability associated with the development of a special issue, at TCR we separate decisions about issue scheduling from the timing of issue development. This means that we do not schedule a special issue until the special issue editors release the entire contents of the issue for production. Once an issue is released for production, we aim to have the issue available online within six months. The appearance of the issue in print depends on the print issue schedule, but we typically aim to have the special issue appear in print form no later than 24 months after it is released to production by the special issue editors.
Developing a special issue of a journal such as the Teachers College Record involves a good deal of work. It is clearly not a time commitment that everyone can or should make. However, if there is a theme or topic of clear concern, it may be a useful activity to advance the field and the agenda of one or more scholars willing to take on the task.