Guest Editors

Wed, 2014-11-12 10:54 -- Bailey Fallon

This page outlines the process of proposing and editing a theme issue of Philosophical Transactions A. We offer the opportunity to put together a dedicated theme issue on a topic of your choice, published by the oldest continually running scientific journal in the world.

For further details or a more in-depth discussion please contact the Editorial Office.

  1. Why edit a theme issue?
  2. Planning a theme issue
  3. Responsibilities
  4. Submitting a proposal
  5. Useful resources


Why edit a theme issue?

Editing a Theme Issue is a serious commitment but can be a very rewarding experience. It gives you the opportunity to compile a dedicated issue of the world's first science journal on the topic of your choice, with your name on the cover. The unique publishing model allows you to showcase the latest research in your field in a way that offers the combined advantages of book and journal publishing. Via this model, each issue has its own ISBN number (so is available to buy as an individual print issue) and dedicated media and marketing plan, whilst all articles still retain the ability to be individually cited. All papers are made freely available after two years, and the introduction, written by you, is free immediately on publication. We also offer an open access option for authors that want it. Guest Editors will receive twenty complimentary print copies of the issue, a discounted order form for distribution to colleagues, and a personal online subscription to the journal for a year.

As guest-editing can be a demanding and time-consuming project, most volumes are organized by a team of people rather than an individual. Two or three editors tends to work best.

Planning a theme issue

The Royal Society wants each Theme Issue of Philosophical Transactions A to be a landmark issue in its field. There are few similar outlets for dedicated issues on a given topic at the highest level.

Because the journal's readership is broad and ranges across the entire spectrum of the physical sciences, it must be emphasized that articles should be inclusive and accessible to readers who are not specialists in the field. Issues should focus on an area of research that is advancing rapidly, and need to be of general enough interest for our wide readership, but specific enough to be a landmark issue on the topic.

The Editor(s) have the responsibility of defining the subject matter, and role, of every article in the issue. Editors should not simply leave each article to the discretion of its author, but rather give each author an idea of what their article should cover so that it fills into the issue as a whole. A successful Theme Issue will have a unity that owes much to its editor. It is often necessary for the Editor to discuss all of the articles in an issue, and to define what each article will cover. It may be important to spell out the boundaries of each article, to ensure both a complementary approach and the absence of overlap. Above all, the Editors should work to cover all the relevant angles of the topic, while minimizing any repetition between the articles.

Suggestions from previous Editors include:

  • Carefully plan the content of the issue to ensure broad coverage of the subject
  • Ensure that all authors know what is expected from their papers
  • Circulate a 'road map' for the issue so that all authors are aware of the overall content of the issue

Theme issues should be approximately 200 pages long. You have flexibility regarding the number of submissions, although around 10-12 submissions is most common. Assuming 10 submissions, each would have to average 20 pages of the journal to make 200 journal pages total. As a guideline, 20 journal pages is equivalent to 10,000 words of text (including references), 200 words of tables and 5 large figures. The papers do not all have to be a similar length, and you are welcome to include a mixture of longer and shorter articles.


We encourage Guest Editors to be creative about the kinds of articles included and to feature a range of articles in the issue. For example, these could include introductions or reviews on different aspects of the topic, new research, papers explaining the importance of the topic to the wider world or articles looking to the future

Please note that Philosophical Transactions A is not a forum for conference proceedings. Conferences can be a base for an issue and selected articles from a meeting may well be suitable. Conference articles can also be supplemented with invited articles to provide balance, scope, and broader interest to the theme issue.

Article types

Introduction: The introductory article is absolutely critical to the Theme Issue. A strong introductory article will be accessible to the readers, and convince them that the topic is crucially important. In addition, introductions to Theme Issues will often be made freely available online, so it will often be the article that readers will read to get a sense of the issue and use to judge whether it is worth them reading the rest of the articles. Therefore the introduction article should sell the topic to readers. It will explain why the topic deserves a dedicated issue and why it is something that the reader should spend their time on. A good introduction will discuss the other articles in the issue and set the context for the rest of the issue, defining what ground each article in the rest of the issue will be covering. At this point the road map which has been set out for the authors, will become apparent to the reader.

Research articles : The meat of the issue will be the articles which discuss the current research in the field. As mentioned in the section discussing the Introductory article, the authors of each research article should have a clear understanding of what the precise topic of their article is, and what it is not. As a rough guideline, we would suggest that two thirds of each research article discuss and explain the accepted data, and a third present new data. As ever, it is important to remember to explain the accepted data first, in order to lay the ground and set the context for the new data. By explaining the current data and then discussing the new data, you lead naturally to looking forward towards the future of the field, and exciting the reader about the possibilities of research in this area.

Reviews: A number of reviews which put the research in a wider context and be written in a style that will make them accessible to readers in a wide range of disciplines are extremely beneficial to the volume.

Opinion pieces: An opinion piece should be written as a perspective, not a formal review. It should be of interest to a broad readership and at the cutting-edge of science. A brief review and critique of past and current work should be given, but the author's own outlook on the subject should be included, in addition to their view on new directions in the field and how it should progress. The author does not have to agree with conventional thought, but should present both sides of any debate.

Articles submitted to the journal must not have been published previously or be under consideration for publication elsewhere. Furthermore, the main findings of the article should not have been reported in the mass media. Philosophical Transactions A employs a strict embargo policy where the reporting of a scientific article by the media is embargoed until a specific time.


The Guest Editor(s) have the responsibility of defining the subject matter, and role, of every article in the issue. Editors should not simply leave each article to the discretion of its author, but rather give each author an idea of what their article should cover so that it fills into the issue as a whole. An excellent Theme Issue will have a cohesion that owes much to its Guest Editor. It is important to spell out the boundaries of each article, to ensure both a complementary approach and the absence of overlap. Above all, the Guest Editors should work to cover all the relevant angles of the topic, while minimizing any repetition between the articles.

All Theme Issues should be based around important scientific topics and contain strong contributions. However, for an issue to be really successful, it is important for the editors to set out a 'road map' of the issue, so every author can understand what is to be achieved by their article, and the issue as a whole. This must be circulated to all authors at an early stage, along with any specific instructions that you feel necessary.

If there are several editors involved, determine the precise individual responsibilities at an early stage. In addition to writing the Introduction to the issue, each Guest Editor should only be an author on a maximum of two research or review article in the issue.

Key points to consider are

  • Carefully plan the content of the issue to ensure broad coverage of the subject

  • Ensure that all authors know what is expected from their papers

  • Circulate a 'road map' for the issue so that all authors are aware of the overall content of the issue


You will be asked to agree dates for draft paper submission and final issue submission with the Editorial Office at an early stage. As we publish 26 issues a year our schedule has to be planned far in advance, so please try to meet these agreed dates. Keep the Editorial Office informed of any changes to the schedule, and let them know if you need help with overdue contributors or referees.

It is the Guest Editor’s responsibility to manage the process to ensure that papers are submitted on time. Projects can be delayed significantly by one author, allowing other contributions to become outdated and momentum to be lost.

Inviting authors

All issues are processed via our online submission system. Once you have invited authors to participate please send the Editorial Office a list of corresponding author names and email addresses, and a due date for each article.

The Editorial Office will then set up an account for each author and will send an invitation explaining how to submit. We will also send general instructions on formatting requirements, and will let them know the deadline for delivery of the draft paper.

It is important that you also reinforce our instructions, and issue any specific instructions regarding:

Changes to the line-up

If at any timeafter the proposal is accepted you need to make changes (e.g. if an author withdraws and you want to add a replacement paper), please contact the Editorial Office as we need to approve the change.

Peer review

As Guest Editors you are responsible for managing the peer review process and for ensuring the quality of the issue. Each article should be sent to at least two referees for comment. You must ensure that the reviewers chosen are not biased and do not have an existing relationship with the authors.

The process is managed within the ScholarOne online system. At the start of the project, the Commissioning Editor will send you full instructions on how to use this system and will be more than happy to assist with any problems you may have.

If you have any concerns over plagiarism, we use the CrossCheck facility and are able to run files through it for you. More information may be found here.


Once reviews are received for a paper you will need to approve the paper, reject it, or ask for revisions. You must only approve a paper once you are happy that it is completely ready for production. Authors asked to revise will be given 30 days to do so – please let the Editorial Office know if this should be changed for a particular paper.

The system will automatically create decision letters for you, but you must edit these appropriately before sending, for example by populating with specific requests for responding to the reviews. You may want to ask authors to cross-cite other papers in the issue.

Checking files

The Editorial Office will also look at the manuscript files before production and will contact the authors with any problems, but is also helpful for the Guest Editor to request any different file types. Please use this checklist:

  • An editable text file of the manuscript (Word document or LaTeX file). If they are using LaTeX then a PDF version should be submitted IN ADDITION.

  • An abstract/summary (up to 200 words) and 3-6 keywords

  • References formatted in the Vancouver (numbered) style

  • An individual high resolution file for each figure (EPS or print-quality PDF, or original software format)

  • Figure captions which contain any required credit information. Authors must clear permission to use figures before submitting to us

  • Authors must pay for colour reproduction in print; check that they are aware of this if using essential colour which will not reproduce well in black and white. Online colour is free.

  • Electronic supplementary material will be published exactly as it is provided. Authors must include ALL information within the one document, including a title, any figures and tables and their captions, and all references relating to citations within the ESM. It must be formatted it so that it looks neat and easy to read. It will NOT be copyedited or typeset. If data is included mention must be made of where this can be obtained from (repository e.g DRYAD).

Finalisation of the issue

When all of your papers have been accepted, including the Introduction, we can put the issue into production. At this stage we will ask you to provide:

  • The running order

  • The exact wording for the title and editor names

  • An image for the cover

  • Marketing suggestions

This should be on or before the finalisation date agreed at the start of the project. The Commissioning Editor will be in touch leading up to this time to ask you for the above items via the finalisation and marketing form.

During the production process the papers will be typeset, proofread, and sent to the authors for checking. The time to online publication depends on when the next available publication slot is, but it is generally within 3-4 months of final delivery to us. Print publication will be approximately 6 weeks later.

Cover image

It is helpful for Editors to supply potential cover images (and relevant captions) before issue finalization, although they may well be contacted later on during the production process with more precise criteria. Any cover images may well be used on journal webpages and in marketing material in addition to journal covers, so please let us know if there are any copyright restrictions on this use. Cover images should be 600dpi resolution at 20cm square and be a striking, relevant image. Composite images do not work particularly well. Recent examples can be found in our cover archive.

Promotion and marketing

After publication we will market the issue at particular conferences and meetings and send you 20 complimentary copies of the issue for you to distribute to colleagues and associates. We will also send you order forms offering the issue at a discounted rate for you to distribute, and you will be given free personal online access to Philosophical Transactions A for one year to follow the journal development, and to help promote the journal and your issue as part of it.

We are always interested in extra marketing initiatives, such as podcast interviews with the editors. If you would be interested in this, or something else, please contact us to discuss the options.

As a thank you for their contribution, authors will be provided with 50 free electronic reprints to distribute as they wish. These reprints will be available via a confirmation email (after issue publication) as PDF downloads. Please note the following important points: (1) these electronic reprints may NOT be used for commercial purposes or posted on openly accessible websites, and are subject to our terms and conditions, and (2) you may forward the email to your co-authors or colleagues in order for them to access the paper also, but do remember that access is restricted to a TOTAL of 50 PDF downloads (unless you otherwise have subscription access to the content). Authors may request additional downloads if necessary.

Submitting a proposal

Philosophical Transactions A considers proposals for theme issues on subjects across the whole of the physical sciences.

The Editorial Office and the Editorial Board are happy to provide informal feedback on a pre-submission enquiry, but cannot provide assurances of whether a proposal will be accepted until the full proposal has been submitted

When you are ready to submit a theme proposal please download and complete our theme proposal form. This should be submitted online to our proposal submissions system at

Please note that the majority of proposed authors must have agreed to contribute before we can consider a theme proposal. Once a proposal has been approved, the Editorial Office will contact the Guest Editor(s) with full details about the publication process including the timelines involved. At this point the Guest Editor(s) will be free to contact the authors to tell them the issue is going ahead.

Useful resources

You may find the following websites and downloadable documents useful.