How To Write a Cover Letter for a Research Paper
The cover letter written to accompany a research paper when it is submitted for publication in a scientific or academic journal offers an unparalleled opportunity to persuade a busy editor that the manuscript merits serious consideration, fits the journal’s publishing agenda and is worthy of peer review. Accordingly, cover letters are notoriously difficult to write well, and many concerns and priorities must be juggled to achieve a professional and effective letter.
It is always wise to begin by consulting the journal’s guidelines for authors. Any instructions relevant to cover letters and their content should be followed with precision. You may be asked to state that the research is original, that it complies with the journal’s ethical standards, that all authors have approved the manuscript, that there are no conflicts of interest and that every trace of authorial identity has been removed from the manuscript in preparation for blind review. It is also common to confirm that the paper has not been submitted or published elsewhere. If part of the research has already been presented or published, explain this carefully, highlighting what is new in the manuscript you are submitting. Even if information of this kind is not requested in a cover letter, it is usually helpful to provide it.
Information about potential reviewers for your paper can be a little trickier. If your field of study is extremely small or highly specialised, such a list might prove particularly helpful for the editor, but it is generally best to mention experts by name only if the journal requests this either in its guidelines or via personal contact. If you are providing a list of possible reviewers, be sure to make your decisions on ethical intellectual grounds and not to include anyone for whom there may be a conflict of interest –a co-author, for instance, or close colleague would be inappropriate. Avoiding specific names while describing with precision the type of knowledge and expertise required to assess your research adequately can be a diplomatic alternative.
Your cover letter should certainly describe your manuscript and publishing intentions clearly. Open with the fact that you are submitting your research paper for publication in the journal, and be sure to provide the titles of both your paper and the journal. Then you can briefly describe your topic and its background, your research questions and methods, and your findings and conclusions as well as the gaps they fill in current knowledge or the practices they may affect. The primary goal is to convince the editor that your research is necessary, your findings important and your paper of interest to readers of the journal who will ultimately cite your work. Since a cover letter should be fairly short (a single traditional page is ideal), you will need to be selective as well as concise and choose information that successfully highlights the unique strengths and significance of your research. A sincere and objective assessment of your work and its meaning will be more effective than unsubstantiated exaggeration and grandiose claims.
Thinking from the perspective of the journal editor can be most helpful. Widen your view beyond imagining what publication in the journal will mean to you and your career by recognising that the relationship between author and publisher is a symbiotic one. Try to focus on how your paper fits the journal’s aims and scope. Why did you decide to send your writing to that particular journal? How does your work relate to articles it has already published, especially in recent months and years? Why would your research be of interest to the journal’s readers? How might they make use of your methods, results and conclusions? Familiarising yourself with the journal, its publications, its aims and its scope will help you prioritise and phrase key descriptions of your work.
Ensure that you write your cover letter with extreme care and then proofread, edit and revise your prose until it is polished to perfection. It is essential that you communicate with the utmost clarity and that your letter promises the editor an equally well-written paper, so errors in language, awkward wording and logical ambiguities must be avoided at all cost. Jargon should also be avoided, and elements such as discipline-specific terminology and unusual abbreviations and acronyms are best if used sparingly and carefully defined, keeping in mind that the journal editor may not share your specialisation. The format of a traditional business letter will enable a tidy presentation of the current date, your name, title and contact information as well as the name, title and contact information of the editor. Be sure to use a proper salutation such as ‘Dear Dr Smith,’ to maintain a polite professionalism throughout your letter and to express gratitude for the editor’s consideration before formally signing off.
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Writing Cover Letters for Scientific Manuscripts
Release Date: September 29, 2012
Category: Scientific Writing
Key Points Summary
- Always submit an accompanying cover letter with every manuscript.
- Some journals have very specific requirements for information to provide in the cover letter, and these are usually stated in the journal’s instructions to authors. Make sure your cover letter includes any journal-required elements.
- Strong cover letters tell journal editors why they should publish your manuscript in their journals.
- Cover letters should be succinct and focus on the importance and novelty of your findings, as well as how they relate to the scope of your target journal.
After the hard work of perfecting your manuscript and selecting a target journal, one more task remains before submission: writing a cover letter. The cover letter is an important document that must do more than tell the editor that you are submitting your manuscript for consideration. It should capture the editor’s attention, provide information about the novelty and importance of your findings, and indicate that all authors have approved of the submission and the manuscript has not been submitted to more than one journal concurrently.
Strong cover letters not only introduce your manuscript – they offer an important opportunity to convince journal editors to consider your manuscript for publication.
Determine Your Target Journal’s Requirements
Before you begin, check your target journal’s author instructions for any cover letter requirements, such as certain specifically worded statements. No matter what else you decide to include, always make sure that your cover letter contains any required information and statements described in your target journal’s author instructions.
Develop an Outline for the Cover Letter
In addition to any information and statements required by your target journal, every cover letter should contain the following elements:
- An introduction stating the title of the manuscript and the journal to which you are submitting.
- The reason why your study is important and relevant to the journal’s readership or field.
- The question your research answers.
- Your major experimental results and overall findings.
- The most important conclusions that can be drawn from your research.
- A statement that the manuscript has not been published and is not under consideration for publication in any other journal
- A statement that all authors approved the manuscript and its submission to the journal.
- Any other details that will encourage the editor to send your manuscript for review.
Write one or more sentences to address each of these points. You will revise and polish these sentences to complete your cover letter.
Write the Body of the Cover Letter
Open your cover letter with a sentence or two explaining why you are writing, the title of your manuscript, and the title of the journal.
- Example: “I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, “Taking antioxidants plus zinc reduces the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration for high-risk patients,” for consideration for publication in Archives of Ophthalmology.”
Briefly state the background for the problem or question your research answers. The focus of the paragraph is to explain why your research was needed and clearly state the question your research answers. Clearly and concisely explain your results, findings, and conclusions.
To keep your cover letter concise, limit this explanation to one or two brief paragraphs. You can also include a sentence or two that links your findings to the interests of the journal’s readership, if appropriate. It may be helpful to review your abstract to stay focused on your most important results and conclusions.
- Example: “Because our findings could be applied in the clinic right away, they are likely to be of great interest to the vision scientists, researchers, clinicians, and trainees who read your journal.”
As you write this explanation, think in terms of “how will my manuscript benefit the journal?” The journal editor’s goal is to publish important, novel findings that are within the journal’s scope and of interest to its readership. Your goal is to show the editor how your manuscript meets these criteria. Such manuscripts will be highly referenced, which will increase the impact factor of the journal. Without exaggerating, explain the novelty, relevance, and interest of your findings to researchers who read that journal.
After describing your research and findings, include a paragraph with any journal-required statements. If the findings in the manuscript have been presented at a scientific meeting, include that information in this paragraph. This paragraph should also include statements about exclusivity and author approval for submission.
- Example: “This manuscript describes original work and is not under consideration by any other journal. All authors approved the manuscript and this submission.”
In your last paragraph, thank the editor for his or her consideration.
- Example: “Thank you for receiving our manuscript and considering it for review. We appreciate your time and look forward to your response.”
Add Basic Letter Elements
Cover letters follow the same simple format as all letters. Make sure your cover letter includes the following basic letter elements:
- Addressee name and mailing address.
- Salutation (such as “Dear Dr. Smith:” or “Dear Editor:”).
- Body of the letter.
- Closing (such as “Kind regards,” or “Thank you,”).
- Signature block (author’s signature, typed name and highest degree, institution, and mailing address).
- Enclosure designation (“Enclosure” to indicate your manuscript is included with the cover letter).
Cover letters are often submitted electronically in an e-mail message. E-mail cover letters may not contain more formal letter elements like the date and address block.
Revise the Cover Letter
Read through your cover letter several times to proofread and revise the text for clarity and brevity. Remove any stray points or sentences that do not directly relate to the purpose, major results, and most important findings and conclusions of your study. As you revise the cover letter, ask yourself if the impact, novelty, and relevance of your findings are clear. Rewrite any sentences that are very long, do not make your point clearly, or are cluttered with too many details.
Cover letters should not exceed one page unless absolutely necessary. If you write a cover letter that is longer than one page, think carefully about how it can be shortened.
As you revise the cover letter, proofread for the same basic grammar and construction issues you would look for when revising your manuscript.
- Eliminate unnecessary or redundant phrases like “in order to” and “may have the potential to.”
- Make sure the letter is written in plain English. Remove any jargon and define all abbreviations at first use.
- Proofread for spelling and grammar errors.
During your review, read the cover letter at least once to ensure you avoid the following:
- Statements that exaggerate or overstate results
- Conclusions that are not supported by the data reported in the manuscript.
- Sentences repeated word-for-word from the manuscript text.
- Too many technical details.
Always complete a final check to confirm that your cover letter includes all elements required by your target journal.
More Resources for Writing Cover Letters
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