Writing a Cover Letter to get your article noticed by the Journal Editor
A cover letter is a brief letter that accompanies your submission to a journal, and gives you the opportunity to communicate directly with the journal’s editor. When used correctly, a cover letter can positively influence the editor’s decision to consider your paper for publication.
How Editors view a cover letter
Some of the key points an editor is looking for in your cover letter are as follows:
- Suitability for the scope of the journal: The cover letter can provide a rapid, simple way to determine how relevant the paper is to the main focus of the journal; that is, how well it fits in with the other papers that it publishes. This is why you should include a clear, specific statement of your motivation for submitting to that journal.
- Level of advance: Journals are just as aware of their impact factors (IFs) as researchers are, and a large part of many journal editors’ roles in evaluating submissions is determining whether a study’s findings merit publication in a journal with their journal’s IF. To determine this, an editor will identify the most important/significant advance that the study provides and weigh this against the average level of advance that other papers published in their journal provide. This is why it is crucial to very clearly state the objective significance of your study in the cover letter, to help shape the editor’s perception of the importance of the study.
- Main message: Closely related to the previous point is the main message of the paper. Ideally, the overall conclusion from the study should be clearly stated in the title and abstract of the paper, and should be argued persuasively throughout the text of the article. The cover letter gives you another chance to present this conclusion clearly and concisely, and to emphasise the main ‘take-home message’ from the paper.
How You need to view a cover letter
Now that you have seen how an editor views a cover letter, here are some things you need to do to ensure your cover letter connects with the editor.
- Make a good initial impression. The cover letter is often one of the first (if not the first) parts of a submission that a journal editor will read, so it provides an opportunity to make a good first impression. A professional, informative and properly formatted cover letter can convey to an editor the seriousness with which you take the submission and the suitability of the paper for their journal.
- Make a strong case for your paper. The cover letter is also a great opportunity to capture the editor’s attention in a positive way, by highlighting the most important findings from the paper and clearly outlining their significance and relevance to the journal’s scope. Many journal editors evaluate a large number of submissions on a daily basis, and do not always read every paper from beginning to end. Therefore, in addition to carefully crafting your title and abstract, it is important to include a well-written cover letter that emphasises the most central and important aspects of the paper. This letter can help attract the editor’s attention and make a strong case that your paper should be considered for publication at your target journal.
- Don't copy the abstract. One mistake that researchers often make is to copy the abstract directly into the cover letter, to serve as the ‘summary’ mentioned above. While this may seem like a quick and easy shortcut, in reality this means that you have lost an opportunity to communicate directly with the editor, who is often looking for different things in your paper than, for example, a peer reviewer or another researcher.
End note: Keep it crisp
In general, the cover letter should not exceed one to one and a half pages, so all of this information needs to be presented very concisely. While it can be a challenge to write such a succinct letter, the benefit of this approach is that a short letter is more likely to be read in its entirety by the editor.
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