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How to edit and develop a multidisciplinary journal

David Canter, Editor of Contemporary Social Science, explains his approach and experience on how to edit and develop a multidisciplinary journal based around themed issues.

Where do you begin with a multidisciplinary journal?

How do you bring a multidisciplinary social science journal to life if it has no central topic? It’s a challenge as authors tend to choose to publish in journals that focus on their discipline of social science.

As well as the issue of attracting quality publications, there’s also the difficulty of knowing enough about the full range of social science disciplines. You need to be able to identify reviewers with confidence. As an editor, I have to find reviewers to look at papers on a diverse range of topics.

Themed issues help you develop a multidisciplinary journal 

It seemed to me that there was a way to make the journal thrive. This was to build each issue around a topic or theme that was multidisciplinary.

Why? Because I felt experts who usually publish in their own journals would want to reach a wider audience. They can do this by contributing to a themed issue. I also thought it was a good idea to bring in guest editors on specific topics. They would know who to ask to review papers and could encourage them to submit.

As a result of doing this, I created a general social science journal based around themed issues. They’re not special issues, rather each issue is themed. That’s what makes the journal different.

Underlying all this is the faith shown by the founders of the Academy of Social Sciences. We share a belief that social sciences do relate to each other. And key topics can benefit from being explored from different social science points of view.

The benefits of editing a multidisciplinary journal of themed issues 

You discover unexpected topics

Discovering support for my idea was exciting. Topics on offer turned into themed issues of the journal.

Some topics are clearly multidisciplinary such as the social science aspects of climate change, and even protest movements. But others were a complete surprise. Our recent issue on social death deals with an area of research I’d not been aware of.

The legacy of hosting the Olympic Games is another theme that requires input from many different disciplines.

Books emerge from themed issues

Themed issues bring together writing on specific topics in one place. The issues can become a useful resource. As a result, libraries are happy to purchase hardback versions that include an index as well as my foreword that summarizes the volume. Guest editors produce an overview introduction that puts the papers in context.

In the five years the journal has focused on themed issues, we’ve been able to generate a dozen books. Now guest editors see this as a perk. They often ask for details of how this happens when they sign up to put an issue together.

You reap the rewards when you develop a multidisciplinary journal

Here are just some of the rewards of creating a journal devoted to themed issues:

  • uptake of the journal has hugely increased
  • downloads have risen
  • individual papers have achieved significant citations

But more importantly, a host of social science topics have emerged as multidisciplinary. Each topic has a clear range of views that explain them.

Here are some examples of studies:

  • how social science has an impact
  • the nature of identity in the modern world
  • the behavior of crowds

These and many other issues from social psychology through to economics, geography, history, educational studies and political science, come together. Each contributes to our understanding of these matters, opening up possibilities for policy and practice.

The natural sciences have always assumed different disciplines can sit happily in one journal. Now we have themes to hold the social sciences together. It’s a coming of age of the study of people and their social contexts.

February 10, 2018

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