Many journals require a cover letter and state this in their guidelines for authors (alternatively known as author guidelines, information for authors, guide for authors, guidelines for papers, submission guide, etc.). For some journals, a cover letter is optional or may not be not required, but it’s probably a good idea to include one.
Why do some journals ask for cover letters?
Cover letters can be helpful to journal staff in the following ways.
1. Cover letters that include standard statements required by the journal allow the journal staff to quickly confirm that the authors have (or say they have) followed certain ethical research and publishing practices.
These statements assert that the authors followed standard practices, which may include (i) adhering to ethical guidelines for research involving humans (Declaration of Helsinki), involving animals (ARRIVE guidelines), or falling under institutional guidelines; (ii) obtaining ethics approval from institutional review boards or ethics committees; (iii) obtaining informed consent or assent from participants; (iv) complying with authorship criteria (e.g., ICMJE criteria); (v) confirming no duplicate submissions have been made; and (vi) recommending reviewers for your paper, which may include specifying peers that you prefer not be contacted.
2. Cover letters can summarize your manuscript quickly for the journal editor, highlighting your most important findings and their implications to show why your manuscript would be of interest.
Some journals, such as Nature, state that while a cover letter is optional, it provides “an excellent opportunity to briefly discuss the importance of the submitted work and why it is appropriate for the journal.” Some publishers, such as Springer, recommend that you write a cover letter to help “sell” your manuscript to the journal editor.
3. Cover letters that contain all of the information required by the journal (as stated in the guideline for authors) can indicate that you have spent time carefully formatting the manuscript to fit the journal’s style. This creates a good first impression. Addressing the letter to a named editor at the journal also shows that you took the time to write your letter (and by extension, your manuscript) with care and considered the fit with the journal beyond just impact factor.
What makes an effective cover letter?
Cover letters should be short—preferably no more than 1 page—and they often use single line spacing. The content can be broadly divided into six sections:
Cover letters can be submitted as normal text files, such as Word, or input directly in a field in the journal’s online submission system.
- Addressee’s information and date of submission
- Opening salutation
- Purpose statement and administrative information
- Summary of main research findings and implications
- Statements or information required by the journal
- Closing salutation and your contact information
Let’s look at some tips for each section. And don’t forget to download the template, which shows these tips already in place.
1. Addressee’s information and date of submission
- Check the journal’s website for the name of the editor who handles submissions; this could be the Managing Editor or an editor assigned to your geographical region. If no handling editor is named, address your cover letter to the Editor-in-Chief. Some journals ask that you identify a specific editor for your specialty.
- Write the name of the addressee in the top left corner of the page.
- Write the date beneath. To minimize the number of line breaks used in your cover letter (and help keep it to one page of text), you can put the date to the right if you wish.
- Note that dates written as numerals only can be confusing: 02/03/2017 can be read “2 March 2017” in British and “3 February 2017” in American English. Using the format “3 February 2017” or “February 3, 2017” is clear.
2. Opening salutation
- Write the title and last name of the addressee (exclude the first name); for example, “Professor Brown” or “Dr. Baker” (British English: “Dr Baker”).
- If you can’t find a named editor on the journal website, then you can use the opening salutation “Dear Editor”.
- At the end of the opening salutation, you can use a comma or a colon; that is, “Dear Dr. Baker,” or “Dear Dr. Baker:” (British English uses the comma; American English uses either, but the colon is considered more formal).
3. Purpose statement and administrative information
- Clearly state the purpose of your letter (that you are submitting a manuscript) and then state your manuscript title, author names (or first author “Brown et al.”), and article type (e.g., original paper).
- Be sure to use the journal’s own terminology to refer to the article type; for example, some journals use the term “Regular Articles” for a full research paper, whereas others use “Original Submissions”, “Full Papers”, “Original Articles”, among others.
- See the downloadable Word template for an example sentence that presents this information clearly and concisely.
- If your submission consists of many files, consider summarizing them in one short sentence so that the journal editor is sure all of the files have been received; for example, “There are 8 files in all: 1 main manuscript file, 1 highlights file, 3 figure files, 1 table file, 1 supplementary data file, and 1 supplementary figures file”.
4. Summary of main research findings and implications
- In a new paragraph, summarize the purpose of your research (the research gap or problem it addresses), the main findings, and finally the implications of these findings. This is your main chance to highlight the value of your work to the journal editor, so keep this short and focused. (Journal editors may receive thousands of submissions annually, and many fulfill editing duties on top of their own research and teaching schedule, so you should strive to make their jobs easier by providing as concise a summary as possible.)
- Be sure to tailor your statements so that they're in line with the readership of the journal. For example, if you are submitting to a more general journal that has a diverse readership, underscore the possible impact your findings could have in multiple fields. Conversely, if you are submitting to a publication with narrow scope, you can write about your findings in highly focused terms.
- Avoid simply reproducing sentences verbatim from the abstract—which the journal editor will likely read next. Instead, if you take sentences from your abstract as a base to work from, then try to craft a much shorter summary that clearly fits the journal’s focus and that highlights the implications of your work for the journal’s readers. In fact, Nature guidelines state specifically to “avoid repeating information that is already present in the abstract and introduction.”
- When stating that you think your work is a good fit for the journal, be sure not to use exaggerated flattery. Avoid using words like “esteemed” and “prestigious” to describe the journal: “We believe that these findings will be of interest to the readers of your
- It’s helpful to the journal editor to state if your work directly relates to a paper published by another author in the same journal. Also, mention if your study closely relates to or extends your previously published work, so it is clear why your submitted manuscript is novel or important enough to publish.
Common phrases in this paragraph:
|Summarizing the purpose of your research|
|Presenting your main results|
|Highlighting the relevance of your findings|
5. Statements or information required by the journal
- In this new paragraph, provide any statements that the journal requires be included in your cover letter. Be sure to review the journal’s guidelines to know what information you should provide.
- Some journals or publishers have very specific requirements. For example, PLOS requires that authors describe any prior interactions with the journal in the cover letter, as well as suggest appropriate Academic Editors from the journal’s editorial board to handle the submission.
- Some journals require that sentences are provided verbatim in the cover letter. The guidelines will tell you to copy and paste the sentence provided in quotation marks into the cover letter. For example, Springer states that cover letters should contain two specific sentences: “We confirm that this manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration by another journal” and “All authors have approved the manuscript and agree with its submission to [insert the name of the target journal].”
- Several statements pertaining to research and publication ethics are commonly required by journals across a broad range of fields. These are given in our downloadable Word template. When using the template, you can retain the statements in full, revise them slightly as appropriate to your circumstances, replace them with any similar wording required by the journal, or delete them if they do not fit your specific situation.
Common phrases in this paragraph:
|Previous contact with the journal|
|Conflict of interests and financial disclosures|
|Request to exclude reviewers|
6. Closing salutation and your contact information
- Briefly thank the journal editor for considering the manuscript and follow this with the full contact information of the corresponding author (name, academic degrees or professional qualifications; affiliation and postal address; telephone (and fax); email).
- Be sure to maintain a collegial tone to leave the journal editor with the best impression as he or she finishes reading your cover letter and moves on to evaluate your manuscript.
- Avoid statements that could be construed as presuming to give instructions to the editor. For example, “we look forward to your review of our manuscript” implicitly directs the editor to review your paper. Also, we look forward to hearing from you “at your earliest convenience/as soon as possible” implicitly directs the editor to communicate with you quickly; instead, simply use a neutral but polite phrase such as “we look forward to hearing from you” or “we look forward to hearing from you in due course”.
- A suitable closing salutation is “Sincerely,” or “Yours sincerely,”
Although the cover letter is not, strictly speaking, a part of your manuscript, it can affect how your submission is perceived by the journal editor. A cover letter that is tailored to the journal, introduces your work persuasively, and is free from spelling and grammatical errors can help prime the editor to view your submission positively before he or she even looks over your manuscript.
We hope our tips and Word template can help you create professional, complete cover letters in a time-effective way. Our specialist editors, translators, and writers are available to help create or revise the content to be error-free and, as part of our additional comprehensive Guidelines for Authors service, we can ensure the cover letter includes all of the statements required by the journal.
Lastly, just as a reminder for members of ThinkSCIENCE’s free annual rewards program, remember to claim your reward of free editing or translation of one cover letter alongside editing or translation of a full paper before the end of the March!
The letter to the editor of your target journal, also known as the cover (or covering) letter, is something that is all too often overlooked by authors. It must not be an afterthought, and its importance should never be underestimated. It should be no longer than 200 words.
The example in Figure 1 is, of course, how you should not write the cover letter.
How NOT to write your cover letter
This poor effort would certainly not help the editor in question to seriously deem your paper fit for publication. It does not say who the writer is, what he is submitting and why it should be considered for publication. To be honest, many editors say that they do not read, or seriously consider, the cover letters they receive. Do you want to take that risk?
As you can see, the letter in Figure 2 is laid out neatly and professionally. The author presents himself and his department and has taken the trouble to find out, and use in the address, the name of the current editor of the journal where he hopes to publish his research manuscript. The title of the manuscript has been highlighted in bold print and the line of research that resulted in the paper has also been briefly outlined. Most of all, the author nudges the editor into seriously considering the work for publication as it ‘might be of interest‘ to his readers.
Be very careful with what you write in the cover letter. Never be rude with editors. Never pay too many compliments about the editor’s incredibly fascinating and astoundingly authoritative journal. What you can eventually do is point out how the publication of your manuscript might help offer some kind of solution to a debate that has been taking place in that journal for some time on the topic matter you deal with.
Do not be superficial and silly. Be careful not to get the name of the editor wrong. Always check who the current editor is. This kind of mistake can be embarrassing, to say the least. Be careful too should you copy and paste from previous cover-letter models. Always remember to change the name of the journal to the one that you are submitting to now, not the one you submitted to previously. This, for quite obvious reasons, is especially important with resubmission following rejection. Humor is dangerous and should be left well alone.
Pay attention to any particular requests made in the Instructions to Authors.
If necessary, make sure that every author signs, or at least write the names of the authors involved in the project. If no specification of this kind is made be sure to state that you (the person writing the cover letter) are the corresponding Author, or else specify your specific role in the writing team. Give assent regarding copyright sign-over, if necessary, and state that there is no existing conflict of interest, should this be requested.
Writing a good cover letter is one more step in the right direction to achieving your ambition, which is to see your paper published, hopefully in your target journal.