What is the difference between special issues and regular ones from the scientific journal publication point of view?

5 Answers 5


Different journals may put different meaning into "special issue". It could mean that papers have been invited around a certain theme, it could mean papers come from a workshop or from symposia, or that the journal has decided to gather papers around a specific topic for some reason. The point is that a special issues differ from regular issues in that the papers constitute a collection around a theme or coming from a specific group of authors or event. Such issues can either be a decision by the journal or a request from a group of scientists to publish around "their" proposed theme. There may be additional cases, but these are the ones I am familiar with within my field.

  • 1
    So papers accepted to be published in special issues have the same magnitude of quality as those published in regular ones? Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 15:39
  • 5
    Generally speaking that should be the case. Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 15:58
  • @PeterJansson hmm.. but how do the journal editors make sure that accepted submissions in the special issue are of the same quality of regular submissions to the journal? if they keep it up for the guest editors.. they might not guarantee the same quality, would they? Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 9:24

In my field (theoretical computer science), the best papers at a particular conference often get invited to a special issue of a journal. The editor of the special issue is typically one of the conference chairs, but the papers still go through the regular peer-review process of the journal, and are held to the same standards.

  • Okay, my paper has been peer-reviewed twice, the first one at an international congress and the second by the journal publisher! Commented Nov 8, 2013 at 16:03

In addition to publishing selected papers in conferences (as mentioned by @Mangara), a publisher can announce a special issue journal to concentrate on a particular set of fields which may be a subset of its overall scope.

One main point to note is that special issues have an additional advantage that they are time-bound. That is the dates for first review result, acceptance/rejection, and publication, are all scheduled. Although sometimes, the dates may be subjected to change, this is in contrast to regular journals where the time-frame may not always be estimated.

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    In my experience, special issues may take a long time to be published because they wait until all invited papers went through the review process etcetera, thus one delay causes the whole special issue to be delayed.
    – user53923
    Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 10:01

It can vary. I have seen special issues for (1) conference, (2) theme, (3) some famous professors birthday/retirement.

In general it really doesn't matter in terms of citations, just do a full cite including issue number and the like. Nobody will notice/care about if it was special or normal. It will still get cited, abstracted, held by libraries the same way.

Sometimes the reviewing can be a little easier on special issues (they tend to have a hard time filling the issue). It's also possible that a slightly less notable paper might make it through (more "datapoint science"). Again, it's not a huge impact and shouldn't worry you, but just sharing my impression.

(Partial overlap with previous answers)


Regular issue is what is published monthly or a quarter as per the schedule of the journal publication. Special Issue is for special events like conferences, seminars or some theme. enter link description here

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