Best foot forward: the cover letter

One of the last things that comes to mind when preparing manuscripts for submission is the cover letter, yet it is the first (and sometimes only) item read by the journal editor. The editor-in-chief or subject matter editor will often use your cover letter to determine if your manuscript is appropriate for their journal. Therefore, it should be a well-written letter that presents a clear argument as to why the journal should publish your paper.

Format of the cover letter

An ideal cover letter consists of two paragraphs. The first sentence should state the title of the manuscript and the type of submission (regular article, review article, etc.). The rest of the paragraph should address any specific items the journal guidelines request (see below). In the second paragraph, which explains why the journal should publish your research, it is important to highlight the main conclusions of the study and convince the editor that your research is relevant to the readership of their journal. In particular, mention any new theory, methods, or important contributions to basic or applied research.

Rarely would you print, sign, and mail the cover letter. Instead you would include it as part of the submission process either as a separate file or in response to one or more questions as part of your online submission.

Possible cover letter requirements

Many journals have specific items or questions that you must address in your cover letter or as part of the online submission process. Unfortunately, some of these may not be apparent until you have started submitting your manuscript, so check in advance to see if you will need to include any of these items as some of these requests can take some time to complete.

  • A declaration that the data have not been previously published, or an explanation if they have been published
  • A statement that all previous work has been fully acknowledged
  • A disclosure of any conflict of interest or a statement that there is no conflict of interest
  • A description of why the work is novel, exciting and of general interest (this would go in the second paragraph, see above)
  • A description of how the work is novel relative to the authors’ other recent work
    A list of suggested reviewers and/or editors, or ones to exclude (with justification for exclusion)
  • Plans for archiving data
  • A statement that all authors agree to the submission of your manuscript and a description of their contributions

Cover letter for a revised manuscript

When submiting a revised manuscript, a single paragraph with the title, type of submission, and a statement indicating that your responses to comments from the reviewers and editor are listed below should suffice.

The well-written cover letter convinced the editor

After the well-written cover letter you sent to the appropriate journal convinced the editor, the editor sent your manuscript out for review. Good luck!

©Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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