Despite the prevalence of online submission systems for articles, the covering letter provides an additional means to tell the journal and its editors why they should consider your article. This is particularly important because the initial editor screening your paper to decide if it warrants peer review may not necessarily be an expert in your particular specialism and therefore will welcome a concise summary of what your research adds. This is especially relevant to highly technical or niche papers.
Here are some tips on how to approach writing your letter:
- Always review the journal’s Notes for Contributors – many journals have templates or specific advice on what they expect you to include.
- Be brief: try to keep your letter to one page, unless there are particular reasons why you need to add more detail. It is important to be succinct.
- Be sure to include the following:
- Your full contact details
- Address the letter to the specific journal editor, or write ‘Dear Editor’. Showing that you know the name of the editor is a good sign that you have evaluated the journal before submission. (Do not use the salutation ‘Dear Sir’, especially because many editors are women!)
- Make reference at the start to the title, journal scope and why your article is relevant. This is crucial as it will ‘flag up’ to the journal whether or not your article is likely to be within the aims and scope of the journal.
- Describe what your methods and research results add to current understanding – why they are novel.
- Briefly describe major results and conclusions.
- If journal policy allows or invites this, you can also include details of potential reviewers for your paper. Be sure to check that their details are correct and valid.
- Ensure that your paper has not been submitted to another journal – a general ‘rule’ is that journals do not consider papers which are under review by other journals.
A useful template from the SPIE (spie.org) is pasted below, and may help to guide you on main criteria to follow:
Dear Dr. [Editor name],
I/We wish to submit a new manuscript entitled “[title of article]” for consideration by the [journal name].
I/We confirm that this work is original and has not been published elsewhere nor is it currently under consideration for publication elsewhere.
In this paper, I/we report on _______. This is significant because __________. The paper should be of interest to readers in the areas of __________.
[Please explain in your own words the significance and novelty of the work, the problem that is being addressed, and why the manuscript belongs in this journal. Do not simply insert your abstract into your cover letter! Briefly describe the research you are reporting in your paper, why it is important, and why you think the readership of the journal would be interested in it.]
Please address all correspondence concerning this manuscript to me at [email address].
Thank you for your consideration of this manuscript.
Any questions? If you need help editing or writing your covering letter, we can provide support and undertake this work for you. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.