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You have worked hard to prepare your manuscript for submission to a journal you have chosen carefully. Now, introduce your manuscript with a great cover letter. Although many authors hastily compose this document, the cover letter can make or break your chances of publication: it can make the difference between being granted a peer review and being rejected outright. Follow the guidelines below to make your cover letter and manuscript stand out. Feel free to use this template to construct your cover letter, and modify it according to your needs.
The basic elements of the cover letter include a heading/salutation, the body, and the closing:
Heading and salutation
- The heading includes the name and title of the Editor-in-Chief or handling editor, the name of the journal, and the date. See a sample heading here.
- The salutation is a standard greeting (e.g., Dear Dr xxx:) addressed to the Editor-in-Chief or handling editor. If you cannot find the name of the appropriate editor, you can write “Dear Editor:”
- The body is the heart of the cover letter; this is where you will make the case for why your paper should be granted a peer review.
- Begin with a concise opening statement announcing that you are submitting a manuscript entitled [“your title”] for consideration as a Research Article, Letter, Brief Communication, Note, or other format tailored to the journal. See a sample opening statement here.
- Next, provide a brief but compelling description or summary of the most important or interesting findings addressed by your manuscript. If you have previous publications that provide the context for your study, you can briefly mention them here with the supporting citations. This summary will help to determine whether the editor will consider your paper further. The summary should be limited to just a few sentences. Consider the following points to help you craft your summary:
- Why is your study important?
- What are your most interesting findings?
- What are the implications and broader significance of the findings?
- What gaps in the research does your study fill?
- After the description of your study, provide a brief statement of how or why the work is relevant to the scope of the target journal and of interest to its readership. This should be based on the stated “Aims and Scope” of the journal and on your knowledge of the journal’s content. A strong statement says more than that you “believe” your findings are relevant and of interest. How does your work relate to the journal’s focus and other research published in it? This section should show that you have made a well-informed choice when selecting the target journal for your manuscript. See a sample summary and statement of relevance here.
- The final paragraph of the body covers a few formalities (see example here). This paragraph should confirm that:
- The research is original.
- The manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration by any other journal.
- All the authors have approved of the submission of the manuscript to this journal.
- There are no conflicts of interest.
- Informed consent was provided (humans), and appropriate ethical standards were followed (humans and animals)—if relevant.
- Suggested reviewers: Many journals invite or require authors to list recommended peer reviewers for their manuscript and to mention any individuals they would strongly prefer NOT to review the manuscript (e.g., because of a conflict of interest). Select these individuals carefully, and keep these statements polite.
- The final sentence should simply express appreciation for the editor’s consideration. For example, “Thank you for your consideration of our manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.”
- An appropriate and common closing is “Sincerely.” The closing is followed by your signature and typed name, institutional affiliation and address, and contact information (see a sample closing here).
- Editors want to know that you have selected their journal based on your familiarity with its focus and content and the appropriateness of your work to its scope and readership. It is advantageous to you to help the Editor-in-Chief to understand how your paper complements other research published in the journal. Doing this does not guarantee that your manuscript will receive a peer review, but failing to do this may reduce the chances that your work will stand out and be taken seriously.
- The cover letter should be concise. Editors read many cover letters each day and may simply skim over letters that are longer than a few short paragraphs.
- Clearly emphasize why the research is important, novel, or interesting.
- Avoid presenting numeric details and other highly specific results unless they are essential to your conclusion.
- Some journals have specific requirements for cover letters. Read the journal’s “Instructions for authors” carefully, and make sure that all required contents are included.
- If your study builds on previous work that you have published, or directly relates to other papers published in the target journal, it is appropriate to mention that and to cite these studies in the letter.
- The cover letter must be well written and free of spelling and grammar errors. If there are glaring errors in this important document, the Editor-in-Chief may assume that your manuscript will also be sloppy. At best, the editor is likely to have low expectations for your manuscript if the cover letter is poorly written. Always run a spelling and grammar check, and have a colleague review your cover letter before you send it.
Do you have questions or insights about writing cover letters? Please leave your comments and questions below.
Anne Altor PhD, PWS
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