A cover letter to the editor for a manuscript submission is the author’s “pitch” as to why the research paper deserves publishing in a particular journal. If you think it is yet another document in the journal submission process for filling in author details and a mere description of the communicated research, think twice. If written succinctly, a cover letter can be a tipping point for your manuscript, leading to an outbound peer review or an outright desk rejection.
More often, the journal editors are burdened with the task of scrutinizing a huge number of manuscript submissions to select novel and high-quality research that align with the scope of the journal and the demographics of its readership. Through a well written cover letter, an editor can get a chance to know the value of the communicated research prior to reading it in full and can be convinced to proceed with the further review process. Thus, it is important to use this tool effectively to move past the editorial screening stage.
Here are the key elements “TO DO” when you write the cover letter for your next manuscript submission:
- Manuscript title and category
Begin the cover letter with the manuscript title and the journal name for article submission. Mention clearly the category of the article type (letter, article, brief, review) pertaining to the particular journal.
- Background and context
Briefly, in a couple of sentences, describe the background of the research to bring context to your work. Mention what has been missing or lacking in understanding of a research problem that has not been addressed so far in the published reports.
- Focus and novelty
Describe how your work, communicated through the submitted manuscript, aims to bridge the existing gap in understanding the research problem. Highlight the novelty of your work by mentioning the major results or findings of your work which provide insightful conclusions that have not been published so far.
- Relevance to the journal and readership
Explain how this new research work is an advancement over previously published works and relevant to the journal’s aim and scope. Mention if there are potential future applications of your current research and why the findings of your work might be of broad interest to the readership of the journal.
- Originality and conflict of interest
Confirm that the research presented in the study is original and that the manuscript is not currently being reviewed by another journal. The manuscript has been approved by all authors, who also consent unanimously to its submission to the journal.
- Identify preferred/opposed reviewers
As per the editorial policy, the information provided by the authors in the cover letter is treated as confidential and is accessible only by the editors and not open to referees. You can suggest the names of potential reviewers if you believe they can be the best reviewers for your manuscript being stalwarts in the same research field. Likewise, you can also request the editor to exclude certain individuals as referees who you believe may not do justice to reviewing your manuscript owing to potential conflict of interest.
- Competing work
You can alert the editors in the cover letter if you are aware of another group competing with similar work and seek an expedited review process. This can help the editors in determining editorial workflow accordingly.
While writing a cover letter is liberating and gives you the freedom to describe what is exciting about your research work rather than writing within the constraints of a particular journal’s format, you should still adhere to a few “DON’Ts” to err on the side of caution.
- Rehash the abstract
While writing the body of the cover letter, do not rehash the abstract of your manuscript that the editor will likely read next. In fact, the abstract of the article can be re-written according to the journal format more easily once you have done the cover letter.
- Too many details, jargons, tall claims
Keep your cover letter to a maximum of one page. Use the limited space wisely and write concisely. Restrict usage of technical details, jargons and boastful claims that can only make the editor wary of your presented work. Also steer clear of expressing any kind of exaggeration/flattery for the journal even if that is the best place to publish your work.
Remind yourself always to follow the ethics of working in a scientific community and strictly avoid any kind of plagiarism.
Finally, writing a cover letter for a journal submission is your best chance of enabling a manuscript to go through the editorial process, getting peer reviewed and published in a coveted journal of your choice. Do your best to grab and use this opportunity to the fullest!
Nature Immunology 9, 107 (2008) “Editorial: Prelude to a good story” Available at https://doi.org/10.1038/ni0208-107