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Dr. Arianna Ferrini, freelance scientific writer on Kolabtree, shares her top tips on writing a cover letter for manuscript submission.
When you submit a manuscript to a journal, you often must include a cover letter. The cover letter is a formal way to communicate with the editor of your chosen journal and is an excellent opportunity to highlight what makes your research new and publication-worthy. The objective of a manuscript cover letter is to compel the publication’s chief editor to accept the manuscript based on the understanding that the manuscript offers a solution to solve an unmet need in the specific field.
Why you need a cover letter for manuscript submission
- To compel: Like writing a professional cover letter when applying for a job, a manuscript cover letter should be written persuasively to help point out all the noteworthy qualities of the manuscript. A well-written cover letter can help your paper reach the next stage following the submission, which is the peer-review stage.
- To state importance: Specify what impact and contribution the manuscript can bring to the specific field. An effective method to do so is to emphasize the unmet need and show how the manuscript has resolved that unmet need.
- To influence: The language of the cover letter should be written in a way that makes the publication feel special that they have been chosen to publish the manuscript.
What you should include in your cover letter
A manuscript cover letter should follow a clear structure to make sure the audience can read the content easily. Given its importance, it is worth spending some time writing a coherent and persuasive letter. It should include the following sections:
- Opening remarks. Here you should include the date and then address the Editor-in-Chief by their title.
- Inquiry request. Here you state the request, including the full title of the manuscript and at least the name of the first author (for example, something like “On behalf of my co-authors, I am submitting the original manuscript entitled [title of the manuscript] by [first author et al.] for consideration for publication in [name of the Journal]).Specify the type of paper you are submitting (e.g., review, research, case study, etc.). Remember that cover letters are separate files from your manuscript, so they should always include essential details like title and authors’ names. Here you should also add a reference to a past inquiry letter (if sent).
- Background. This should be a high-level background of your topicto introduce why research in this area is important. For example, in the case of a biomedical research paper linked to a disease, you could state the number of people affected, the high health care cost, and the need for treatments.
- Unmet need. Describe the unmet need (again, for biomedical research, this would be the unmet clinical need) and explain why more publications are needed.
- Summary of the manuscript. This section should include a summary of the manuscript, clearly highlighting the key findings. Here you should also indicate why the reader of the journal would be interested in the work.
- Author’s agreement. This section is important and should include something like“All authors have read, edited and contributed to the content of this manuscript. This work has not been previously published and is not being considered for publication elsewhere.”
- Ending regards. Thank the Editor-in-Chief for their consideration and wrap the letter up. Although any author can correspond with the journal’s editorial staff, cover letters are usually written and signed by the corresponding author of the paper.
Mistakes to avoid
Providing a cover letter to accompany your manuscript submission can be extremely useful for you and for the journal editor. However, to ensure the editor give serious consideration to your publication, there are some mistakes to avoid.
- Poor formatting, structure and grammar. This is the most important thing. Think about your letter as your manuscript’s (and yours) business card: you want to make a good impression. Before sending a cover letter to the journal of your choice, make sure it does not contain grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Additionally, it should be laid out in a nice and readable format and easy to follow. Avoid using too much jargon or acronyms and keep the language straightforward.
- Overselling your work. While it is important to highlight the innovative nature of your research, it is equally important not to overvalue your work and sound arrogant.
- Not adhering to the journal’s guidelines. Every journal has its own guidelines when it comes to manuscript preparation, and the same is true for the cover letter. Before you start to write, check your chosen journal’s guidelines carefully and make sure you adhere to what is requested. For example, some journals want the author to suggest potential reviewers or to include a shortlist of similar papers previously published by the journal. Some journals require that you include specific statements and disclosure (e.g., compliance with ethical standards, conflicts of interest, agreement to terms of submission, copyright sign-over, etc.). If you don’t follow their rule, it is not a first good impression.
- Copying your abstract into the cover letter. They are two different things with two different objectives. The aim of the cover letter is to state the significance of the work and why it belongs to that specific journal.
- Making it too “vague”. Remember, the editor will always have their readership in mind; therefore, you should not be vague and use a “copy-paste” cover letter. Instead, you should tailor it to the specific journal you are targeting and highlight why your work fits within the journal’s scope. You can usually find the scope of the journal on their website.
- Claiming you are the first one showing something while in reality it has already been shown. This mistake is more common than you might think, and it will annoy the editor and make them question your entire work. Often these mistakes are made unintentionally, so make sure you have checked and double-checked the current literature before sending your manuscript. As every researcher knows, manuscript writing is a long process, and it could well be that you miss some just-off-the-press papers in the several months/years from the beginning of the project to the completion of the manuscript.
- Providing a long biography of yourself and your career. Unless specifically requested, this should not be included in a cover letter.
- Making the cover letter too long. As a general rule, a cover letter should not be longer than a single printed page. You must be selective to make your key points stand out and also not to waste a busy editor’s valuable time.
How to increase chances of your manuscript being accepted
A great way to increase the chances of your manuscript being accepted is to send a manuscript inquiry letter to gauge interest and receive initial comments from the Editor-in-Chief prior to the actual submission of a manuscript. The objective of sending a manuscript inquiry letter is to influence the target journal to be interested in reviewing/accepting the manuscript. An inquiry letter should have three main sections: introduction and top-line message, a captivating synthesis of the manuscript, and the inquiry followed by a wrap-up.
A manuscript inquiry letter should catch the editor’s attention and communicate that your research is something new and innovative, which has the potential to change the field. Key words include “novel”, “state-of-the-art”, “exciting”, “first”, “first ever”, “never shown before”, “ground-breaking”, “potential paradigm shift”.
You should write the inquiry letter as soon as the target journal is identified, and the author group determines the key messages/data of the manuscript. On the other hand, you should write the cover letter when the manuscript is completed and ready for submission. It is always a good idea to ask an experienced and published colleague to read your manuscript inquiry and cover letter and give you honest feedback about them.
A good cover letter can help you “sell” your manuscript to the journal editor. Submitting a cover letter to accompany your manuscript gives you the opportunity to explain why your manuscript should be considered and why it would be of interest to the readers of that specific journal. A cover letter should be of the highest quality possible. Before submitting it, perform a checklist to iron out the prose and make sure you have included all the relevant sections and information.
A great manuscript cover letter:
- Compels the audience
- States the manuscript’s importance to the field
- Make the journal feel lucky you came to them
Does yours tick these boxes?
Need help to develop a cover letter for manuscript submission? Hire experienced freelance scientific writers on Kolabtree.