We are often asked at our Charlesworth Knowledge author training workshops: Why should I bother to write a ‘covering letter’ when submitting my paper to a journal? Why is this extra piece of writing so important? Surely it’s not necessary: after all, the journal editor can see what my paper is about just by reading it.
Skimping on your covering letter is the wrong approach and can be a huge missed opportunity. The covering letter that you write to accompany your article submission to a journal is absolutely crucial because it is often all an editor will read, alongside your title and abstract. You need something that will attract attention.
This is because editors at top journals (with high impact factors) handle large numbers of papers every day: it makes sense to do everything you can to both make their lives easier while at the same time effectively selling the message of your study. Rejection rates before peer review are also high at leading journals, up to 90 percent in some cases. This means that nine out of ten papers will be rejected by the editor before they are even sent out for peer review. What can you do to maximise your chances of getting your paper through this initial ‘editorial triage’ stage? How can you quickly convince an editor that your study is important and interesting enough to warrant peer review?
The covering letter you write and send to the journal is your chance to do this: take it from me, editors actually do read these documents. Think: Why are your results important? What’s the major breakthrough? Why have you chosen to submit this work to this particular journal? These are all important topics to emphasise in your cover letter. Indeed, the last of these questions (‘why this journal?’) is the most often overlooked: actually, editors want to know why you have selected their journal for your study. Why is your work going to be of particular interest to the readership of this journal? This is well worth thinking about and articulating clearly; after all, you must have decided on your target journal for a good reason.
Many authors cut corners here and write something dull or derivative that is of no use to an editor at all: ‘Dear sir, please find our paper enclosed which we hope you will find interesting. Yours sincerely’. This is a wasted opportunity to convince the journal editor that your manuscript is worth consideration. It’s also very important to suggest suitable colleagues who could act as peer reviewers in your covering letter, as this might be your only opportunity to do this during the submission process.
In some cases, journal editors even have to contact authors to ask them for some more information about their papers following submission at our journal: ‘Dear authors: Thank you for your submission. Can you please give us a little more information about why you feel that this paper is particularly suitable for our journal?’ However, editors at leading journals won’t give you this second chance!
We can provide you with templates for writing effective cover letters to journal editors, depending on your field. We can also edit your cover letters as part of our Advanced Editing Package. Why not get in touch with our Charlesworth Knowledge team for more information?