Frontiers' Research Topic publishing program: pioneering the future of scientific publishing

“Frontiers: at the frontier of scientific publishing” 

Photo credit: Frontiers

Frontiers' publishing program was developed 20 years ago in anticipation of the evolving publishing needs of 21st century science. We recognize the need to bring together mission, tradition, quality, and innovation to scientific publishing to empower research communities to direct and shape scientific publishing. 

Frontiers' Research Topics program is a testament to our commitment to innovation, adaptability, and community-centered approaches in a rapidly evolving academic landscape.  

Through our Research Topics and custom-built platform we empower leading researchers to bring together their research communities and help them communicate their research openly and more efficiently. Many Research Topics reach exceptional impact in views, downloads and citations. Some examples include: 

Why Research Topics?

The exponential development of informatics and the online exchange of scientific research over the past 30 years is rapidly making the organization of knowledge into discrete scientific journals obsolete. Research Topics emerged to prepare for the 21st-century pivot in science towards spontaneous academic collaborations, multifaceted global partnerships, the intricate dependencies of multidisciplinary research, and a growing spectrum of technologies and expertise needed to generate new science. Our Research Topics program is a dynamic response to the rigid academic taxonomies of traditional journals that constrain how science can progress. 

“In a race against time, we cannot afford to be held back by outdated and rigid publishing programs – we need innovative, open, responsive, quality, and transparent programs that meet the needs of newly forming cross- and multi-disciplinary research communities.” 

Recognizing the importance of evolving scientific focuses, we introduced Research Topics as a flexible, adaptive, and vibrant publishing venue that caters to dynamically self-organizing research communities. Research Topics are not what are traditionally known as 'special issues' - and that's why they were named distinctively right from the start. They are collaborative hubs, led by pioneers with a scope defined by leaders of newly emerging research fields, open to submissions from all those who identify with the new multidisciplinary community. Some leading researchers are invited by the editors, but most authors join the project spontaneously, drawn by the amplified impact and visibility gained with the RT project that will shape their field. The lead researchers driving the area serve as a topic editor in close collaboration with the journal’s editor-in-chief. There is no 'special' treatment for submitted articles; they must undergo Frontiers’ rigorous and constructive peer review process by appointed editors and community of reviewers empowered by AI. The quality of Frontiers' peer review speaks for itself: 94% of researchers visiting the Frontiers website rate the quality of articles published as good or excellent. Articles published by Frontiers receive the third-highest number of citations per article among the top 20 largest publishers in the world.

By bringing researchers across different fields together into an interdisciplinary community, Research Topics help raise the impact that these researchers achieve for their articles. This is exemplified by the higher citations rates of articles in Research Topics.

While Research Topics are intrinsic to Frontiers’ journals, not an add-on as is the case with special issues, they are optional on our partner journal platform. Submissions here must still undergo a rigorous peer review process. Nevertheless, they can be shaped by the society that operates their own journal, allowing the addition of unique features and a more specific adaptation to their community. 

“Frontiers' Research Topics provide a unique model for research dissemination that moves as fast as science itself evolves. They put the power back into the hands of the research community, where it belongs.” 

The message to scientific publishing is: “the world has changed and is set to change even faster as science comes under pressure to deliver a growing number of solutions to global challenges such as climate change and pandemics in a much shorter time scale than ever before.” Fred Fenter, Frontiers Chief Executive Editor.  

How do Research Topics fit into Frontiers publishing program? 

The goal of Frontiers' publishing program is to empower research communities to actively steer the course of scientific publishing. Our program was implemented as a three-part unit with fixed field journals, flexible specialty sections, and dynamically emerging Research Topics, connecting communities of different sizes.  

Field journals bring together broad and well-established research communities, already firmly entrenched within academic taxonomy. Specialty sections bring together specialized communities within the field to focus their expertise on the quality and integrity of research, while embracing innovation. Research Topics bring together dynamically forming researcher communities around contemporary themes, while placing them in the context of specialty and field communities. Together, they offer a comprehensive and highly impactful publishing platform to meet the evolving demands of 21st century science.  

Photo credit: Frontiers

Learn more about Frontiers’ publishing program, how Research Topics fit into it, and community-led approach to quality in our Chief Publishing Officer Mirjam Eckert’s speech at Frontiers Forum Live 2023 in Montreux, Switzerland. 

Key features of Frontiers' Research Topics 

  1. Community-centric approach: Each Research Topic forms around an emerging or established community that propels research activity within a topical area capable of advancing the field. These areas swiftly progress, achieving notable milestones in rapidly advancing research. 

  2. Inclusivity and collaboration: Spearheaded by pioneering researchers, Research Topics are open to all, fostering serendipitous and novel contributions, transforming into hubs of spontaneous academic collaboration within and across disciplines. 

  3. Flexibility in evolution: Research Topics are living entities with opening and closing dates, yet they can adapt according to community demand. Certain Research Topics expand across multiple journals and sections as their reach evolves. 

  4. Uncompromised quality: Every article undergoes the same rigorous and constructive peer review, ensuring the same quality standards as all Frontiers publications. 

  5. Maximized impact: Articles within Research Topics typically have higher citation rates, thanks to their interdisciplinary and community focused character. 

  6. From topics to journals: Some Research Topics have such an impact that the community demands a new specialty section within a fixed field journal, paving the way for evolving science to advance in the academic taxonomy. 

  7. Leaders: Research Topics are led by the pioneers of science, allowing these breakthrough researchers to be recognized by the community.  

At its core, Frontiers' Research Topics program is a model for modern scientific publishing: community-driven, flexible, and impactful. Research Topics extend scientific publishing by supporting the rapid evolution of the scientific process, accelerating collaboration, and consequently accelerating scientific advancements.  

About Frontiers

Frontiers is the 3rd most-cited scientific publisher on relative citation scores. We publish discoveries by the world’s top researchers. Scientists empower society and our mission is to accelerate scientific discovery by making science open. We place the researcher at the center of everything we do and enable the research community to develop the solutions we need to live healthy lives on a healthy planet. Featuring state of the art custom-built publishing technology, artificial intelligence, and rigorous quality standards, our research articles have been viewed more than 2.4 billion times, reflecting the power of research when it is open for all to read.