Special Issue on Participant-centered Behavioral Traces

The collection of digital trace data has become one key endeavor for communication research in recent years. These data have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of social processes beyond self-reported measures of media usage and other online behavior – while also suffering from their own problems with validity, missing data, ethics, and privacy. Two of the main challenges are the accessibility and representativeness of the data. Large datasets of digital traces in various domains exist, but they are owned by the platforms that generated them (e.g. Alphabet, Meta). Direct cooperation with platforms remains challenging and may further existing inequalities in access to data.  For these reasons, it seems promising to collect data directly in cooperation with respondents using data donation techniques or other collaborative data collection approaches to collect participant-centered behavioral traces. In this way, users are at the center of data collection, allowing informed consent and increased agency over their own digital traces – a prerequisite for trust in scientific institutions and research projects. Also, this approach enables research designs that include traces and other methods such as surveys, interviews, or experiments. 

This special issue asks for contributions on collecting digital trace data in cooperation with users and making use of informed consent – either by leveraging existing data (e.g. data donation or linkage approaches) or by producing data during collection (e.g. screenshots, photos, videos produced by users). For empirical articles, the data sources should cover communication/media/social media data, but are not restricted to a certain genre or type of information (e.g. advertisement, political or news content, entertaining media content, mediated interpersonal communication)) and be collected as part of the research project (no secondary analyses). We also invite conceptual articles that tap into the advantages and challenges of data donation and other cooperative approaches – especially welcoming new perspectives on how to gather data in different cultural and political settings (e.g. data donation challenges outside of the U.S. and Europe) and how to tackle issues of representativeness and data quality. Lastly, we welcome contributions introducing open source tools to the research community to help make data donation and other cooperative approaches more accessible. In line with the identified needs, we welcome three different types of submissions: 

  • [ A ] Empirical and Methodological Articles: manuscripts that introduce, use and validate data donation and user-cooperation to examine important theoretical questions in communication, or other social sciences. The articles should clearly focus on methodological aspects of data donation, participant-cooperation and vertical data collection
  • [ B ] Theoretical and Conceptual Articles: Besides empirical and data-driven articles, we also invite contributions that focus on the theoretical, conceptual characteristics, challenges, advantages and disadvantages of data donations and similar modes of data collection. This also includes legal and ethical aspects of data donation and user-cooperation.
  • [ C ] Software or tool announcements. This is a very short (up to 5 pages) paper that essentially describes the overall goal of research software, tools, and frameworks to facilitate data donations, user-cooperation, and similar data collection modes. The code of the tool needs to be open source to receive consideration.

Computational Communication Research is open access and completely free for authors and readers. You will retain copyright on your article and it will be published under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Submission Guidelines 

All special issue extended abstracts should be submitted through the journal’s online system: computationalcommunication.org/ccr/submission.  In the "note to editor", please indicate that you are submitting to the special issue on "Data Donations".

You have two different options to submit to this special issue: Handing in an extended abstract or a registered report. They vary in the amount of work that is required at different stages of the review process. Extended abstracts require less work in the first round (winter) but more in the second round (spring) while registered reports require more work in the first round and less in the second. Registered reports accepted in the first round come with a conditional guarantee of publication (see more information below) while this is not the case for extended abstracts.

Extended abstracts are limited to 1,500 words (excluding a title page, references, tables, and figures). If the extended abstract is evaluated positively, you are invited to submit a full paper in spring. The abstracts should include the following sections to facilitate evaluation: 

  1. Title page. The title page should include a title for your abstract, author(s) and affiliation(s), and a mention of the type of article you are submitting (Empirical, conceptual, or software paper). 
  2. Proposed research (up to 1,000 words). For empirical and methodological articles, a brief introduction of relevant literature, research questions, hypotheses and methods. For theoretical articles, a brief outline of the arguments to be presented in the article and the specific challenges and concepts that will be addressed. For software or tool announcements a short description of the tool and the intended audience suffices. Most importantly, it is required that the tool is open source and code is shared upon submission. 
  3. Timeline and milestones (up to 100 words). For example, when data will be collected and analyzed, and when sections of the draft will be completed (for tools: whether the tool is completed and whether any pilots have been conducted). A concise table, chart, or bulletin list should be sufficient to summarize the information. 
  4. Contribution to social science research (up to 400 words). Describe the theoretical and empirical contributions of the proposed research to social science research broadly. How will this research impact scholarly communities moving forward? For tool announcements describe the advantages compared to existing tools and describe one or two use cases for the tool. 

Registered reports are limited to 4,000 words (excluding a title page, references, tables, and figures). If the registered report is evaluated positively, the authors are given a conditional guarantee of publication -- if the authors show that they have done the analyses they said they would do on the data they said they have obtained/would obtain, the paper is published, regardless of whether the findings end up being "significant" or particularly novel. See this article for more information and resources about registered reports. The registered report should include the following sections to facilitate evaluation:

  1. Cover letter. The cover letter should include a statement that all necessary ethical approvals have been submitted, an explanation of why the submission is appropriate as a Registered Report, and an anticipated timeline for completing the study if the initial submission is accepted.
  2. Title page. The title page should include a title for your report, author(s) and affiliation(s), and a mention of the type of article you are submitting (only Empirical articles would be appropriate for a registered report).
  3. An Introduction and relevant sections that review the literature that motivates the research question(s) and fully describes the study aims and hypotheses. 
  4. A method section that:
    1. Specifies all of the variables, both independent and dependent.
    2. Addresses the issue of statistical power.
    3. Specifies a clear rule for terminating data collection.
    4. Specifies the data analysis procedures that will be used, including rules for data elimination.

The abstracts and registered reports will be reviewed by the editors of the special issue (Felicia Loecherbach, Ericka Menchen-Trevino, Lukas Otto), in consultation with relevant experts when necessary. Review criteria include how clearly the proposed research responds to the call of the special issue in addition to the research’s theoretical and empirical contributions to communication science and other social science; methodological and scholarly rigor; broader impacts; and feasibility. Acceptance of abstracts to be developed into full paper submissions does not guarantee final publication in the special issue. All full paper submissions will be competitively peer-reviewed and reviewed by the editors. 


  • Extended abstracts and registered reports are due November 30th, 2022.
  • Decisions on the extended abstracts will be made by December 16th, 2022, decisions on the registered reports will be made by early January 2023.
  • Full papers will be due April 30th, 2023. Papers will then be subject to external blind peer review. 
  • Publication of final accepted articles is expected in the Summer/Fall of 2023. 

Inquiries for Guest Editors 

Please feel free to contact the guest editors, Felicia Loecherbach (), Ericka Menchen-Trevino (menchent@american.edu), and Lukas Otto (lukas.otto@gesis.org), if you have questions about additional details or whether your research fits the scope of the special issue.