Information on Special Features

Potential authors and coordinating editors should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is the Special Feature likely to teach a large audience about material with which our readers are unfamiliar? Will it cause a large audience to re-examine an issue that is not as settled as most have presumed?
  • Is the group of papers special in the sense that one is unlikely to be able to find something like it published elsewhere in compact form?
  • Will the articles help graduate students who are formulating thesis projects and just beginning to think about where they might contribute to our science?
  • Do the articles speak to a broad audience and make many connections to a wide range of past and current work?

If the answer to two or more of these questions is yes, then the proposed special feature is likely to be appropriate for Ecology. We are less worried about ample supporting data and statistical design than is the tradition for Ecology articles. SF articles need not represent totally original work on the part of the authors, but instead can review or synthesize a body of work. In a sense, the bottom line is, would the special feature make good reading for a graduate seminar on the topic, and would the topic itself be of wide enough interest that a reasonable number of graduate students would show up for the seminar.

Format and Length. Most SFs are composed of 4-8 papers preceded by a short Introduction. The Introduction explains the objectives of the SF and briefly introduces the papers. The Introduction is written by the organizer(s) of the SF and should be no more than one or two printed journals pages or approximately 1200 words.  It should include a set of key words, and should not contain literature citations or an abstract. If needed, a longer overview could be cast as an introductory paper that follows the brief Introduction, or as a concluding paper. Sometimes a concluding paper is also appropriate.

It is possible to organize a SF that includes some features of a Forum. For example, there might be an Introduction and several major papers, followed by several short comments on the set of papers.

The general guideline is that a SF may occupy 30-80 printed pages in the journal. Roughly speaking, this translates into 90-240 manuscript pages (including bibliography, tables, figures and figure legends -- all pages are counted). Therefore, 80 pages should be considered an upper limit, and shorter features are encouraged. Longer SFs are possible only if external funding can be provided to support a special issue of the journal; it costs on the order of $25,000 to produce a special issue.

Given the overall page limit, the number of papers that can be included obviously depends on the length of the individual papers. In the past, SFs have contained between four and ten papers; five is perhaps ideal.

Soliciting Manuscripts and the Review Requirement. Depending on how the idea for a SF is generated, authors and topics might be selected in a variety of ways. Sometimes the organizers of a symposium or small conference submit a proposal to the Editor-in-Chief (EIC) to incorporate the papers from that meeting into a SF. In that case, the authors and topics may have already been selected. In other cases, an idea for a SF is proposed to the EIC. If the EIC finds the proposal appropriate (generally after consultation with selected subject-matter editors), the organizer then contacts potential contributors.

If a proposal for a SF is judged to be appropriate for the journal, it does not mean that it necessarily will be accepted for publication.  Perhaps the most critical requirement for a SF is that all papers must go through the normal, rigorous review. It is critical that the organizers and the authors all recognize that this review will take place and that some SFs are rejected and that some component papers are often rejected or required to be recast. Just because an idea for a SF has been accepted in principle, or an author has been invited to contribute, does not guarantee that the SF or any particular manuscript will be accepted for publication.

The journal policies regarding financial arrangements for publication (e.g., page charges, charges for color figures, etc.) apply to Special Feature papers.

Steps in Organizing a Special Feature

1. Proposing the SF

The organizer should prepare a short, written proposal for the Special Features Editor and the EIC that includes a brief explanation of the topic and a list of tentative titles and authors. After the proposal has been accepted, a more definite list of authors and titles must be submitted. This should be done only after authors have been contacted.

At this point it will be necessary to determine who will be the Coordinating Editor for the SF. If the SF is organized by a member of the Editorial Board, then that Editor will typically serve as the Coordinating Editor of the SF. If the SF is organized by someone not on the Board, a designated member of the Editorial Board (or the Special Features Editor) will serve as Coordinating Editor.

2. Peer Review of Manuscripts

The SF organizer will be responsible for reading, editing, and approving each manuscript before it is submitted to the Coordinating Editor. Once approved by the Coordinating Editor, the organizer should send a list of titles and authors both to the EIC and the Publications Office, and at the same time notify the authors to submit their manuscripts on ScholarOne in the same fashion as all manuscripts are submitted to Ecology. The authors should indicate the name of the SF in the Comment field. Once submitted, the manuscripts will be assigned to the Coordinating Editor, unless the Editor is among the authors, and then another Editor will be selected by the EIC.

Each manuscript must be reviewed by at least two qualified, anonymous peer reviewers. The names of six appropriate reviewers shall be suggested by the Coordinating Editor for each manuscript, perhaps with suggestions from the authors and SF organizer(s). If reviewers have already agreed to review, then only two names are necessary, and the Publications Office should be notified. It is important to identify reviewers who do not have any conflicts of interests (e.g., collaborators, co-authors, or colleagues at the same institution).

In the interest of efficiency, the mechanics of the review process are generally handled by the Publications Office. This relieves the Coordinating Editor of the responsibility of soliciting reviewers and reminding reviewers to send in their reports. The introduction and the list of papers will be made available to the reviewers along with each manuscript so that the proposed context of the paper will be evident.

The reviews may also be handled by a panel of reviewers specifically assembled to review all the manuscripts. This is an acceptable procedure so long as each manuscript is reviewed by two anonymous and qualified reviewers, and individual written reviews are produced. The review will still be managed by the PO.

3.  Decisions on Manuscripts

After the reviews have been received, the Coordinating Editor must make a decision about each manuscript, and submit the decision online.

A request for a revision should not state that a manuscript is "accepted subject to revision." The word "accept" should be used only when no further revision is needed. The letter to the author should detail exactly how the manuscript should be revised. The more specific the instructions, the fewer rounds of revision will be necessary. Multiple rounds of review and revision are possible. As a general rule, for Ecology the deadline for submitting revised manuscripts is three months. This is not a requirement for SFs, but it remains a reasonable guideline. The Publications Office does not enforce any revision deadlines for SFs, nor do they send reminders to authors.

When a manuscript is accepted, the acceptance letter should clearly state that the manuscript is accepted as part of the SF and that acceptance is contingent on acceptance of the SF. If for some reason the SF should not be accepted, the manuscript is not necessarily accepted as an independent manuscript; further review might be necessary to determine whether it can be accepted as a stand-alone paper. "Revise" and "Accept" template letters specific for Features are available to the editor when making a decision online.

Final decision on the acceptance of a completed Special Feature rests with the EIC. When a SF has been completed, the Coordinating Editor will examine the SF as a whole and will forward a full copy and a recommendation to the Special Features Editor and EIC.

4.  Final Instructions for Authors, Organizer(s), and Coordinating Editor

Once all papers recommended for acceptance have been approved by the Coordinating Editor and the Special Features Editor has approved the SF, the organizers should complete the "Checklist for Organizers of Special Features" and send this to