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How to write a cover letter for journal submission
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When you submit your article to a journal, you often need to include a cover letter. This is a great opportunity to highlight to the journal editor what makes your research new and important. The cover letter should explain why your work is perfect for their journal and why it will be of interest to the journal’s readers.
When writing for publication, a well-written cover letter can help your paper reach the next stage of the manuscript submission process – being sent out for peer review . So it’s worth spending time thinking about how to write a cover letter to the journal editor, to make sure it’s going to be effective.
To help you, we’ve put together a guide to explain how to write a cover letter for journal article submission. You will receive cover letter instructions of what you should include and what you shouldn’t, and a word template cover letter.
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What should my cover letter include?
Before you start to write, please check the instructions for authors (IFAs) of your chosen journal, as not all journals will require one. You should also check the IFAs for any journal specific information on what to include. This may include a list of relevant articles written by you or your co-authors that have been or are currently being considered for publication in other journals.
Key points to include in your letter to the editor:
Editor’s name (you can usually find this on the journal page on Taylor & Francis Online ).
Your manuscript’s title.
Name of the journal you are submitting to.
Statement that your paper has not been previously published and is not currently under consideration by another journal.
Brief description of the research you are reporting in your paper, why it is important, and why you think the readers of the journal would be interested in it.
Contact information for you and any co-authors .
Confirmation that you have no competing interests to disclose.
Things to avoid:
Don’t copy your abstract into your cover letter, instead explain in your own words the significance of the work, the problem that is being addressed, and why the manuscript belongs in the journal.
Don’t use too much jargon or too many acronyms, keep language straightforward and easy to read.
Avoid too much detail – keep your cover letter to a maximum of one page, as an introduction and brief overview.
Avoid any spelling and grammar errors and ensure your letter is thoroughly proofed before submitting.
Click to enlarge your PDF on key information to include in your cover letter .
Cover letter template
If you need further help to write a cover letter for a journal, you can download and use our sample template as a guide.
You might find that the submission system for your chosen journal requires your cover letter to be submitted into a text box rather than as a separate document, but it is still a good idea to write a draft first to make sure you have included everything.
Always make sure to check the journal’s instructions for authors for any specific additional information to include.
Use our submission checklist to make sure you’ve included everything you need to.
If you need more guidance, take a look at our other information and resources to help you make your submission .
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A good cover letter can help to “sell” your manuscript to the journal editor. As well as introducing your work to the editor you can also take this opportunity to explain why the manuscript will be of interest to a journal's readers, something which is always as the forefront editors’ mind. As such it is worth spending time writing a coherent and persuasive cover letter.
The following is an example of a poor cover letter:
Dear Editor-in-Chief, I am sending you our manuscript entitled “Large Scale Analysis of Cell Cycle Regulators in bladder cancer” by Researcher et al. We would like to have the manuscript considered for publication in Pathobiology. Please let me know of your decision at your earliest convenience. With my best regards, Sincerely yours, A Researcher, PhD
Instead, check to see whether the journal’s Instructions for Authors have any cover letter requirements (e.g. disclosures, statements, potential reviewers). Then, write a letter that explains why the editor would want to publish your manuscript. The following structure covers all the necessary points that need to be included.
- If known, address the editor who will be assessing your manuscript by their name. Include the date of submission and the journal you are submitting to.
- First paragraph: include the title of your manuscript and the type of manuscript it is (e.g. review, research, case study). Then briefly explain the background to your study, the question you sought out to answer and why.
- Second paragraph: you should concisely explain what was done, the main findings and why they are significant.
- Third paragraph: here you should indicate why the readers of the journal would be interested in the work. Take your cues from the journal’s aims and scope. For example if the journal requires that all work published has broad implications explain how your study fulfils this. It is also a good idea to include a sentence on the importance of the results to the field.
- To conclude state the corresponding author and any journal specific requirements that need to be complied with (e.g. ethical standards).
TIP: All cover letters should contain these sentences:
- We confirm that this manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration by another journal.
- All authors have approved the manuscript and agree with its submission to [insert the name of the target journal].
Before submitting your manuscript, thoroughly check its quality one more time. Evaluate it critically—could anything be done better?
Be sure that:
- The manuscript follows the Instructions for Authors
- All files are in the correct file format and of the appropriate resolution or size
- The spelling and grammar are correct
- You have contact information for all authors
- You have written a persuasive cover letter
Back │ Next
Journal Article Publication Letters
What is this handout about.
This handout offers guidance on how to write a cover letter for submitting journal manuscripts for publication.
What is a journal publication letter?
A journal publication letter, also known as a journal article submission cover letter, is a cover letter written to a peer-reviewed journal to advocate for the publication of a manuscript. Not all journals ask for a publication letter. Some see publication letters as optional, but many peer-reviewed academic journals request or require them.
What do journal publication letters typically contain?
The most basic information included in a publication letter is contact information, the name of the author(s), the title of the manuscript, and either the assurance that the manuscript being submitted has not been submitted elsewhere or a statement regarding any places the manuscript may be available. Some journals may also expect you to briefly explain your argument, outline your methodology or theoretical commitments, discus permissions and funding, and explain how your manuscript fits into the overall aims of the journal. Journals may even request the names of two or three suggested reviewers for your manuscript. A journal may require all, none, or some of this additional information. The above list is not exhaustive, but it highlights the importance of knowing the journal’s conventions and expectations.
How should I prepare to write?
Just as with any other writing project, writing publication letters involves a process. Although you may finish in as little as a few hours or a day, you might take longer if you compose multiple drafts. This section is designed to help you think through the various steps of the writing process.
Previously, we mentioned the importance of knowing the journal’s standards, but you may not find those expectations laid out clearly on the journal’s website. In fact, most journals assume that the scholars who submit a letter are well-versed in the journal’s mission. Below are some strategies for helping you determine the expectations for journal article publication letters.
Consider the standards in your field:
- See if your field’s top journals require a letter.
- Ask your advisor or mentor about their standard practices.
- Ask someone who has published recently in your field’s top journals whether a letter is standard or not.
- If submitting a letter is standard practice, ask others in your field for examples of their publication letters to see what information is typically included.
Research the specific journal:
- If you aren’t already very familiar with the journal, read a handful of recent articles to get a sense of the type and content of manuscripts the journal publishes.
- Explore the journal’s website to see what you can learn about the journal in general.
- Read the journal’s mission statement.
- Read carefully any information the journal provides for potential authors.
- If you still have questions, consider contacting one of the journal’s editors.
After completing your research, you should have a good sense of the journal’s audience and the sort of articles that appear in the journal.
Once you know the expectations for publication letters in your field and in a specific journal, revisit the reasons your manuscript is a good fit for the journal. Remember the journal has no obligation to publish your manuscript. Instead, you advocate for your scholarship and communicate why your manuscript is a good fit. Below are some questions to consider.
Consider how your manuscript fits into the publication:
- How does it use a specific methodology or framework important to the journal?
- How does it focus on themes that have been popular in recent issues?
- How does it advance a new perspective on topics typically seen in the journal?
- Does it fit with any proposed themed issues?
Consider the audience for your manuscript:
- How does your subject or your approach to it intersect with the interests of the journal’s readers?
- How does your manuscript appeal to readers outside your subfield?
- Could your manuscript reach a broader audience that could expand the journal’s readership? If so, how?
Consider how your manuscript engages with the field at large:
- How is it advancing new perspectives, approaches, or topics?
- How is it critiquing previous or current scholarship?
- How is it anticipating new directions in the field?
- How is it using a common approach in a new way?
All these questions encourage you to consider how your manuscript contributes to the field in a way that is valuable enough for a journal to publish it. Make no mistake, the cover letter is an argument for why your manuscript should be published.
Writing a draft
This section addresses two aspects of composing a cover letter draft. The first aspect is the form, and the second is the content. Think about both of these aspects when composing your draft.
Consider the form
The structure of a document can be defined as the different sections of the document and the order in which they appear. There should be an addressee and addresser, as well as the proper contact information. If possible, it should be on departmental letterhead. The letter may be as short as three sentences or as long as multiple paragraphs. But unless the writer is a senior scholar, even a longer letter should be no more than one page. Some standard features you might consider:
Addressee. If you choose or are required to write a cover letter, follow the standard format for letters in the country in which the publication is based.
- It is usually addressed to the editor unless otherwise specified.
- If you cannot find the name of the editor, it is permissible to address it to the Editor-in-Chief or Managing Editor.
- The address should be the journal’s, not the editor’s personal address or institutional address.
Font. While this category may seem trivial, font choice communicates a lot to readers.
- The goal for a letter is readability, so avoid fonts and styles that are difficult to read.
- Standard fonts include Arial or Times New Roman, usually in size 12.
Paragraphs. Again, the formatting of paragraphs aids in the readability of a letter, and an unusual paragraph format may appear unprofessional to some readers.
- Make sure that paragraphs are not indented.
- Single-space the text and justify it to the left.
- Separate paragraphs with one line of space.
Closing. Letter closings solidify your presentation as a professional. Maintain the same formality as the rest of the letter.
- Close with “sincerely,” “best regards,” or something comparably formal.
- Type your name and provide your signature.
- Include your contact information near the end.
- For a dual-authored manuscript, include the contact information for both authors.
- If the manuscript was composed by more than two authors, include only one additional author’s contact information with yours.
Consider the content
Remember that a cover letter, especially a longer one, is essentially a professional pitch for your manuscript. You ultimately need to communicate why your manuscript would be a good fit for a particular journal. Journals asking for longer cover letters want to know whether you are familiar with their audience and the journal’s mission statement. Below are some elements that you should consider when composing your letter:
Summarize the major arguments/findings of the manuscript. Make sure that you clearly explain what you discovered from your research. Connect these findings to the journal’s aims and scope. Some questions you might consider:
- Did you make new connections?
- Did you confirm previous findings?
- Did you discover new implications?
Discuss your methodology. Clarify the type of methods you used in your research. Ask yourself:
- Did you undertake a case study? A longitudinal study? A cross-sectional study?
- Is the study qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods?
- Did you use or adapt a specific model or framework?
- Did you approach the topic using a new theoretical lens?
- Did you integrate multiple theories or theoretical frameworks?
- Did you apply a theory or method not frequently used in your subfield?
- Did you approach a theory or method in a new way?
Consider the aim of the journal. Every journal has a purpose, and most journals have a statement about the type of scholarship they feature. You might ask:
- What is the aim and scope of the journal?
- How does it present itself to the field?
- How does your manuscript fit with recent publications in the journal?
Consider the readership. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Who is the audience for the journal, and how will your manuscript appeal to them?
- Which institutions subscribe to this journal?
- How does your manuscript appeal to readers outside your subdiscipline?
- How does your manuscript appeal to people outside your discipline?
- How does it appeal to non-academic readers or professionals?
Consider the journal’s future trajectory. Research journals strive to remain relevant. In order to do so, journals often change to reflect trends in the field. Ask yourself:
- Are they attempting to expand their readership?
- Are they trying to integrate interdisciplinary approaches?
- Are they incorporating more theoretical questions or newer methodologies?
- Are they willing to critique the field?
- Would your manuscript work as a part of a special issue?
Provide context for the research . If you are writing a longer letter, explain how your research fits in both with the research in your field at large and in your subfield. Ask yourself:
- How does your work contribute to your field?
- How does it engage with current scholarship in your field or subfield?
- Does your scholarship address an oversight in the field? If so, how?
- Do you innovate in terms of the subject(s); the methodology; or the integration of fields?
- Do you address a gap in current research?
Additional considerations . Check to determine whether the journal requires any additional information. Some common expectations include:
- Comment on the type of article submitted (e.g., research article, review, case report)
- Assurances that all authors agree with the content of the manuscript
- Assurance that the corresponding author will take responsibility for informing co-authors of editorial decisions, reviews received, and any changes or revisions made
- Information about any closely related manuscripts that have been submitted for simultaneous consideration to the same or another journal
- Statements about conflicts of interest or activities that might be seen as influencing the research
- Statements regarding ethical practice
- A copy of permissions to reproduce copyrighted material or a notice that permissions are pending (if applicable)
- Names of specific reviewers from the journal who may be a good fit to read your manuscript
Below are several other elements to keep in mind as you write your publication letter:
- Avoid using too much jargon or too many acronyms.
- Avoid over-embellishing your findings or exaggerating their significance.
- Avoid name dropping.
- Keep it simple and straightforward. Do not write a novel.
- Keep it professional. Avoid humor.
- Don’t copy text word-for-word from your manuscript.
Below are two cover letter templates to help you visualize how form and content combine to make a strong publication letter. The templates offer guidelines for each section, but they can be modified based on the standards of your field. Use them to help you think through the elements that are most important to include in your letter.
Remember, your first draft does not have to be your last. Make sure to get feedback from different readers, especially if this is one of your first publications. It is not uncommon to go through several stages of revisions. Check out the Writing Center’s handout on editing and proofreading and video on proofreading to help with this last stage of writing.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
American Psychological Association. n.d. “Cover Letter.” APA Style. Accessed April 2019. https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/research-publication/cover-letters.
Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2009. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Press.
BioScience Writers (website). 2012. “Writing Cover Letters for Scientific Manuscripts.” September 29, 2012. https://biosciencewriters.com/Writing-Cover-Letters-for-Scientific-Manuscripts.aspx .
Jones, Caryn. n.d. “Writing Effective Cover Letters for Journal Submissions: Tips and a Word Template.” Think Science. Accessed August 2019. https://thinkscience.co.jp/en/articles/writing-journal-cover-letters.html .
Kelsky, Karen. 2013. “How To Write a Journal Article Submission Cover Letter.” The Professor Is In (blog), April 26, 2013. https://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/26/how-to-write-a-journal-article-submission-cover-letter/ .
Kelsky, Karen. 2013. “Of Cover Letters and Magic (A Follow-up Post).” The Professor Is In (blog), April 29, 2013. http://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/29/of-cover-letters-and-magic-a-followup-post/ .
Mudrak, Ben. n.d. “Writing a Cover Letter.” AJE . https://www.aje.com/dist/docs/Writing-a-cover-letter-AJE-2015.pdf .
Wordvice. n.d. “How to Write the Best Journal Submission Cover Letter.” Accessed January 2019. https://wordvice.com/journal-submission-cover-letter/ .
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- Published: 14 October 2022
How to make cover letters instructive
Nature Biomedical Engineering volume 6 , pages 1087–1088 ( 2022 ) Cite this article
Succinctly convey the study’s context, emphases, implications and limitations.
The title of this Editorial may be read as implying that cover letters to articles submitted to Nature Biomedical Engineering are neither useful nor informative. Indeed, most aren’t. We find that many cover letters for research articles express excitement about the work, restate the abstract of the manuscript, declare that the findings constitute a major advance and emphasize the importance of the main research topic. They also typically list authors, suitable reviewers and excluded experts, and any competing interests and other confidential information; yet most of this information is requested by the manuscript submission system or can be provided through it.
Excitement, prominent advances and topical importance are, perhaps expectedly, more commonly relayed by authors than perceived or judged by editors (especially by those with a mindset for selectivity). Naturally, one’s own work is a labour of effort and passion; yet it is difficult to transmit enthusiasm to an editor accustomed to reading, often cursorily, many similarly worded cover letters each week. Novel, promising and transformative work, and platform technology with untapped potential are examples of swiftly skipped words in the angular gyrus of an editor’s brain as they skim through a cover letter to rapidly find the most useful bits of information.
There’s more than love for one’s work shaping the style of cover letters. Competition for publishing in a journal that peers perceive to be of high reputation drives many authors to overemphasize the findings of their work and the broader relevance of the subject area 1 . And misgivings about the work being misjudged by an editor insufficiently knowledgeable about the topic may drive some authors to avoid conveying seemingly complex context or background information, and to magnify the implications of their results.
It is therefore unsurprising that some editors disregard cover letters when assessing the suitability of a manuscript for their journal, or read the manuscript before opening the cover-letter file so as to appreciate and assess the work in the form meant to be communicated. Also, the widely held belief that editors of Nature-branded journals select manuscripts largely on the basis of the cover letter is a myth; manuscripts are examined 2 . Are cover letters for first submissions therefore a wasted effort? Are they an unhelpful relic of the pre-internet era? Do they bias manuscript selection? Many arguments can be made for and against these questions. Instead, discussing how cover letters accompanying first submissions of original research articles can be made more instructive would be more fruitful. That’s our aim for the remainder of this piece.
First, and foremost, know your audience. Manuscripts are written for the many; cover letters should be written for an audience of one (or for a team of very few). When writing a manuscript, knowing your intended audience primordially means appropriately crafting the context of the scientific story 3 . Similarly, consideration of the current scientific experience of the manuscript’s prospective handling editor and of their editorial colleagues — should this information be known or available — can inform how the cover letter is framed. Has the journal published related work? Does it have a reputation for quality in the subject area or for publishing similar types of scientific advances? Are the editors likely to be familiar with current challenges and opportunities in the field, and knowledgeable about its standards of rigour and reporting? Are the editors aware of any relevant controversies?
Second, help the editors understand and assess the main contributions of your work. At Nature Biomedical Engineering , for research manuscripts that fit the journal’s scope we assess the degree of advance, broad implications and breadth and depth of the work. To perform this task well, we need to place the manuscript in its appropriate context 4 . We find that a cover letter is particularly informative when it helps us to identify the relevant type of advances in the study. Do the authors feel that the main contribution of the work involves the development of new technology to widen its biomedical applicability? Or does the value of the work mostly lie on the performance and translatability of a slightly improved workflow? Are any of the methods or their implementation new? Was the study’s aim to minimize the usability and cost of a device, or to expand its functionality? Is the mechanism of action underlying the discovered phenomena a notable contribution? And are the mechanistic insights being leveraged to improve the understanding of the disease or the intervention? We also appreciate it when cover letters provide suitable context for the work: for instance, which recently published studies are most relevant, and why? Is the work merely using state-of-the-art technology or methodology, or building on it? Has the same problem been addressed by other approaches? Has the same hypothesis been investigated from different angles? What types of validation support the robustness of the findings?
Third, describe the realistic implications of the work. The temptation is to dream big; yet, the credibility of the inferences improve when they are suitably constrained. Hence, state the main challenges that lie in the way. Similarly, describe the study’s limitations and whether they arise from the assumptions made, or from the methods, models or data acquired or used.
The style and format of research manuscripts are constrained for good reasons: they make it easier to find and interpret the information. The freedom of free-form writing can make cover letters more challenging to write well. We can offer a few more pieces of advice: constrain their length, structure and detail 5 , and explain your work and its context accessibly 6 . And, as if writing for a semi-supervised learning agent (pictured), use natural language.
Nat. Biomed. Eng. 1 , 771 (2017).
Nature 556 , 5 (2018).
Nat. Biomed. Eng. 2 , 53 (2018).
Nat. Biomed. Eng. 6 , 677–678 (2022).
Nat. Biomed. Eng. 5 , 1111–1112 (2021).
Nat. Biomed. Eng. 6 , 105 (2022).
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How to make cover letters instructive. Nat. Biomed. Eng 6 , 1087–1088 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41551-022-00957-4
Published : 14 October 2022
Issue Date : October 2022
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1038/s41551-022-00957-4
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