Cover letters are an often underrated part of the submission process. You might think that your manuscript will stand out based on the title or its contents alone, but the fact of the matter is, most journal editors just don’t have the time to thoroughly read every submitted article in full to decide if it is appropriate for their journal. They’ll get there eventually, but they use cover letters to help them filter out the most interesting and appropriate submissions first, and to help identify articles that are completely out of scope and would be better off getting a quick letter of rejection. If your manuscript doesn’t have a cover letter and the ten other articles on the editor’s desk do, it is likely that your paper will be looked at last, so you can see their importance in getting your work noticed.
Here we look at five key elements of a good cover letter that can help your paper go from the reject pile to the top of the editor’s list.
- Be personal
Do your homework. Look up the name of the Editor-in-Chief or the specific Section Editor for the journal you are submitting to and address the letter to them directly. Just like a cover letter for a job, you need to personalize your cover letter to demonstrate your interest in that particular journal, and not make it look like you’d just be happy to get your paper accepted anywhere. You should also explain why your study will be of specific interest to the readers of the journal. Check out the Aims & Scope on the journal website to see who their target audience is and tailor your reasoning to them.
- Tell them what you want to publish
This may seem obvious, but it occasionally happens that authors submit cover letters without including the title of their paper and what type of article it is. This should appear in the very first paragraph of your letter and will help the editor see immediately if the topic is of interest and judge whether they have space for the article type you’re submitting for the current issue.
- Summarize the highlights
It’s not enough to simply include the title of your manuscript in the cover letter and hope it will be enough to get the editor to consider your paper. You want to keep your cover letter to one page if possible, but you should always include a brief summary of your study outlining the reasons why you conducted the work, your aims, and the major results you observed. Don’t include statistics or a lot of data; a compelling summary of the study is sufficient and, if the editor is interested, they will look to the the article for further details.
- Sell yourself
Cover letters are your chance to talk directly with the journal editor and convince them that your paper is more interesting than the next one sitting on their desk. Talk about any real-world implications of your findings or the significance of your results for the field. Don’t be too speculative or over-exaggerate your findings, but do take this important opportunity to feature the importance of your work.
- Don’t forget your ‘must have’ statements
Editors want to know that your manuscript has not been submitted elsewhere or is under consideration at another journal. They want to know any relevant conflict of interest information and any roles the funding body played in the study. The instructions for authors may or may not have explicit information on what they want you to write, but it is good practice to state this information up front so the editor doesn’t have to dig through the manuscript to know if you have met the basic ethical requirements for consideration for publication.
To see an example of how all this fits together in a good cover letter, you can download our free cover letter template and check out our step-by-step guide on our YouTube channel. Good luck!