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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Writing Cover Letters for Scientific Manuscripts
Release Date: September 29, 2012
Category: Scientific Writing
Key Points Summary
- Always submit an accompanying cover letter with every manuscript.
- Some journals have very specific requirements for information to provide in the cover letter, and these are usually stated in the journal’s instructions to authors. Make sure your cover letter includes any journal-required elements.
- Strong cover letters tell journal editors why they should publish your manuscript in their journals.
- Cover letters should be succinct and focus on the importance and novelty of your findings, as well as how they relate to the scope of your target journal.
After the hard work of perfecting your manuscript and selecting a target journal, one more task remains before submission: writing a cover letter. The cover letter is an important document that must do more than tell the editor that you are submitting your manuscript for consideration. It should capture the editor’s attention, provide information about the novelty and importance of your findings, and indicate that all authors have approved of the submission and the manuscript has not been submitted to more than one journal concurrently.
Strong cover letters not only introduce your manuscript – they offer an important opportunity to convince journal editors to consider your manuscript for publication.
Determine Your Target Journal’s Requirements
Before you begin, check your target journal’s author instructions for any cover letter requirements, such as certain specifically worded statements. No matter what else you decide to include, always make sure that your cover letter contains any required information and statements described in your target journal’s author instructions.
Develop an Outline for the Cover Letter
In addition to any information and statements required by your target journal, every cover letter should contain the following elements:
- An introduction stating the title of the manuscript and the journal to which you are submitting.
- The reason why your study is important and relevant to the journal’s readership or field.
- The question your research answers.
- Your major experimental results and overall findings.
- The most important conclusions that can be drawn from your research.
- A statement that the manuscript has not been published and is not under consideration for publication in any other journal
- A statement that all authors approved the manuscript and its submission to the journal.
- Any other details that will encourage the editor to send your manuscript for review.
Write one or more sentences to address each of these points. You will revise and polish these sentences to complete your cover letter.
Write the Body of the Cover Letter
Open your cover letter with a sentence or two explaining why you are writing, the title of your manuscript, and the title of the journal.
- Example: “I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, “Taking antioxidants plus zinc reduces the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration for high-risk patients,” for consideration for publication in Archives of Ophthalmology.”
Briefly state the background for the problem or question your research answers. The focus of the paragraph is to explain why your research was needed and clearly state the question your research answers. Clearly and concisely explain your results, findings, and conclusions.
To keep your cover letter concise, limit this explanation to one or two brief paragraphs. You can also include a sentence or two that links your findings to the interests of the journal’s readership, if appropriate. It may be helpful to review your abstract to stay focused on your most important results and conclusions.
- Example: “Because our findings could be applied in the clinic right away, they are likely to be of great interest to the vision scientists, researchers, clinicians, and trainees who read your journal.”
As you write this explanation, think in terms of “how will my manuscript benefit the journal?” The journal editor’s goal is to publish important, novel findings that are within the journal’s scope and of interest to its readership. Your goal is to show the editor how your manuscript meets these criteria. Such manuscripts will be highly referenced, which will increase the impact factor of the journal. Without exaggerating, explain the novelty, relevance, and interest of your findings to researchers who read that journal.
After describing your research and findings, include a paragraph with any journal-required statements. If the findings in the manuscript have been presented at a scientific meeting, include that information in this paragraph. This paragraph should also include statements about exclusivity and author approval for submission.
- Example: “This manuscript describes original work and is not under consideration by any other journal. All authors approved the manuscript and this submission.”
In your last paragraph, thank the editor for his or her consideration.
- Example: “Thank you for receiving our manuscript and considering it for review. We appreciate your time and look forward to your response.”
Add Basic Letter Elements
Cover letters follow the same simple format as all letters. Make sure your cover letter includes the following basic letter elements:
- Addressee name and mailing address.
- Salutation (such as “Dear Dr. Smith:” or “Dear Editor:”).
- Body of the letter.
- Closing (such as “Kind regards,” or “Thank you,”).
- Signature block (author’s signature, typed name and highest degree, institution, and mailing address).
- Enclosure designation (“Enclosure” to indicate your manuscript is included with the cover letter).
Cover letters are often submitted electronically in an e-mail message. E-mail cover letters may not contain more formal letter elements like the date and address block.
Revise the Cover Letter
Read through your cover letter several times to proofread and revise the text for clarity and brevity. Remove any stray points or sentences that do not directly relate to the purpose, major results, and most important findings and conclusions of your study. As you revise the cover letter, ask yourself if the impact, novelty, and relevance of your findings are clear. Rewrite any sentences that are very long, do not make your point clearly, or are cluttered with too many details.
Cover letters should not exceed one page unless absolutely necessary. If you write a cover letter that is longer than one page, think carefully about how it can be shortened.
As you revise the cover letter, proofread for the same basic grammar and construction issues you would look for when revising your manuscript.
- Eliminate unnecessary or redundant phrases like “in order to” and “may have the potential to.”
- Make sure the letter is written in plain English. Remove any jargon and define all abbreviations at first use.
- Proofread for spelling and grammar errors.
During your review, read the cover letter at least once to ensure you avoid the following:
- Statements that exaggerate or overstate results
- Conclusions that are not supported by the data reported in the manuscript.
- Sentences repeated word-for-word from the manuscript text.
- Too many technical details.
Always complete a final check to confirm that your cover letter includes all elements required by your target journal.
More Resources for Writing Cover Letters
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