Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been refreshed.
Most journals require that a cover letter be submitted along with each manuscript submitted for publication. Unfortunately, few authors are aware of the actual impact that a cover letter can have: it provides an excellent opportunity to communicate with the journal editor and draw his or her interest to the submitted manuscript.
As is common knowledge, journal editors are swamped with hundreds of submissions, and it’s important to make a good first impression. This editorial in Nature Immunology talks about how a cover letter “initiates a dialog between the authors and the editors” and “serves to whet the appetite of the editors.” So a brief, hurriedly written cover letter with just the basic information—title of the paper, journal name, and contact details of the corresponding author—adds little value to the submission. Here are some additional important points to mention in your cover letter for journal submission:
1. Title of the paper and corresponding author details: Although mentioning these details seems obvious, you should ensure that these are included in your cover letter.
2. A short summary of your findings: In just 3-4 sentences, you should summarize the most important findings of your study. It would be best to avoid technical details here. The objective should be to place your findings in the context of the current literature. Ask yourself the following questions to arrive at the major strengths of your study:
- How does my study add to the present knowledge?
- Does my paper refute or complement the findings of a key paper in the field?What is novel about this study?
- Does this study offer any remarkable future implications?
3. Motivation for submitting to the journal: After the short summary, add a sentence regarding the suitability of your study for the journal. Write about how it matches the journal scope and why the readers will find it interesting.
4. Ethical approval: The cover letter for your research paper should mention whether the study was approved by the institutional review board, in case of any possible ethical concerns. In case of clinical trials, mention that informed consent was obtained, and provide the registration/approval number (some journals especially ask for this).
5. Conflict of interest: Mention whether there are any potential conflicts of interests.
6. Originality and author agreement: Finally, state that the manuscript is not under consideration for publication by another journal and that all the authors have read the manuscript and agreed to submit it to that journal.
7. Additional information: Apart from all the above essential information, some journals require additional information to be provided, which could assist the editors in reviewing the manuscript. Ensure that you check your journal formatting guidelines carefully in this regard.
8. Preferred and non-preferred reviewers: Most journals encourage authors to mention their preferred and non-preferred reviewers because this may help to expedite the review process. Authors should choose reviewers wisely, ensuring that they have no conflicts of interest and will be able to provide an unbiased and valuable assessment. Also mention any reviewers who should definitely not be appointed because of an existing conflict of interest. Note that the final choice of reviewers rests entirely with the journal editor, who may or may not accept your suggestions.
9. Prior interaction with any of the editors of that journal: If any of the journal editors has expressed interest in your work during a prior interaction (for example, on social media or at a conference), mention this in your cover letter. Under certain circumstances and with special permission from the journal, you may even address the cover letter to this editor.
10. Similar competing work: If you think your work is truly groundbreaking and think that another research group may be submitting similar results elsewhere, you can request the editors for a fast-track review process. However, use this option with caution, as it may make journal editors wary.
So that’s all there is to a cover letter for journal submission.
But what about the letter you need to provide at the time of resubmission (after addressing reviewers’ comments)? In this case, the resubmission cover letter need not repeat the information that was provided on initial submission. Instead, you should thank the journal editor for his or her assessment and the reviewers’ time and comments. Mention whether you agree with all the reviewer’s comments/suggestions. In case of those you don’t agree with, you need to offer a logical point-by-point rebuttal.
To summarize, remember that the cover letter may be your best and only chance to market your manuscript. A well-drafted impressive cover letter may be a key factor in your manuscript being given serious consideration.
You can download the attached template to write a cover letter for your submission.