How To Write a Journal Article Submission Cover Letter

Today’s post is a special request post for several clients who have written to inquire how to write a cover letter for the submission of an article manuscript to a journal.

****Addendum (4/29/13):  Please read the follow up to this post, “Of Cover Letters and Magic,”  as it retracts some of the advice given in  this post!****

This is pretty straightforward. 

First, by all means follow any instructions given to you for the cover letter on the journal submission website!  Those will override anything I say here.

Assuming there are no instructions, the following is common:

The letter should be on letterhead if it is available for your use. The letter will typically be just one page long.

It will have proper letter heading material, ie, the date and the address of the recipient at the top left, under the letterhead.

It will address the editor by name, if the name is known.

It will then have four short paragraphs. The first introduces the writer, and follows the basic format of the intro para of the job cover letter described in this post (ie, field, Ph.D. institution and year, current institutional affiliation and status, and general focus of work). It then states that the writer is submitting a manuscript for review.

The second paragraph covers the topic of the manuscript. This will be a crisp 4-5 sentences that will give a title and describe the topic, the specific material/data covered, the theoretical orientation or approach, any special issues of methodology if important, and, most importantly, the core argument.

The third paragraph will be shorter, and will take about 2-3 sentences to describe the manuscript’s contribution to the field and the suitability of the manuscript to this particular journal based on topic, theme, or methodological or theoretical approach, with reference to other work recently published in the journal.

The final paragraph will list 2-3 possible reviewers for the manuscript, and will thank the editor for considering the manuscript for publication. Contact info can be added here.

Sign off, “Sincerely, XXX.”

And that is about it.





How To Write a Journal Article Submission Cover Letter — 34 Comments

  1. This is excellent! Some journals put out a “call for papers” for an issue that will address a specific theme, while others state that “contributions for publication consideration will be accepted at any time.” Regarding the latter, is it acceptable to submit the same article (or very similiar) to serveral journals at the same time?

  2. I think this is something that differs from field to field. In English, it’s not common to give that much information about your current status, nor is it common for the writer to describe methodology, etc. Most cover letters are only one or at most two paragraphs; they simply list the title of the manuscript, acknowledge the guidelines for submission (“I have enclosed two copies as requested” etc.), and add any contact information not listed on the letterhead, like e-mail address and personal phone number. And I was told flat out by both my advisors and journal editors that suggesting specific reviewers is considered unprofessional.

    • Writing this kind of letter for a lit crit journal is a very bad idea. Just title, 2-4 sentence description of argument, and contact info. Anything else is unprofessional.

      • A lot of other feedback has made a similar point; this seems to be a a convention that is either field-specific, or one that is in flux, or both. Perhaps the best advice is to first inquire closely if a cover letter is required at all, and if so, what it should include.

  3. In my field, philosophy, almost all journal submissions are via either email or online management systems. In either case, a cover letter is never necessary. In emails, it just takes roughly two polite sentences indicating that I’m sending a submission, that it’s been prepared for anonymous review, and that it isn’t under consideration at any other journal. Even less is required for the online systems. One ‘can’ submit a cover letter, but it’s unnecessary and superfluous. I just think that expectations and practices surrounding this issue have shifted, at least in my field.

  4. I published an article as a Ph.D. student (pre-comprehensive exams) and I purposely didn’t put any information about myself in the letter, worried the editors might hold my junior status against me. In fact, I was so worried about blinding all my materials that I think I just signed the letter “The author,” which was probably silly. Anyway, the essay was R and R’ed and then accepted. I would argue that a very junior scholar might have good reasons to leave out her status and her interests.

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  6. I have never written a cover letter to accompany my submissions. What I have done in the past, and has worked so far, is to send an abstract in advance, to ask if the journal would be interested in considering an article on that particular topic. This saves some time, and also means that when they receive the completed article, it goes directly to peer-review, having already been approved by the editorial board as an abstract. At least, this has been my experience, with 5 articles already in print, all originally submitted as abstracts (except one, an invited contribution).

      • I thought everybody did it, but nobody had actually told me to do it, so for a moment there I figured I was being a brilliant strategist. Another advantage is that, if they do reject the abstract, they might give some useful feedback, sometimes just simply pointing out a better ‘home’ for the article.

  7. In my social science field, it is standard to submit a cover letter that includes a *very* brief description of the paper and its contribution. But it would be odd to introduce yourself in the way suggested here (most journals do ask for a separate affiliations page, however), or to suggest reviewers. The latter idea was raised at a session I attended to teach grad students about journals in our field, and all of the editors there expressed the feeling that it would be inappropriate to suggest reviewers in our field.

  8. It is considered appropriate to indicate what scholars in the field have read the manuscript in order to ensure blind review, correct?

    • I do that, to make sure they are not given the article to read. Articles involved were accepted, so it did not do any harm! Especially in more esoteric areas, where experts are few, it is a good idea, because the chance that the article will come their way are relatively high.

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  10. Mmm, I’m rather stunned at this post since I’ve had worked published in journals but I’ve never written a cover letter to accompany my submissions. I’ve never been advised to write a letter beforehand. I do, and I’ve been advised to, send an abstract in advance, to ask if the journal would be interested in considering an article on that particular topic. It saves me time working out whether the editorial board are really interested in the article in the first place and as Alessandra says above, means it can go directly to peer-review, having already been approved by the editorial board as an abstract. I’d also rather find out based on an abstract that the journal is or isn’t a good ‘home’ for the article. I’d rather put my efforts into writing an article that has a ‘home’ already rather than worrying whether it will be nixed on the grounds its not what the editorial board is looking for.

  11. A killer cover letter is a must to even get a review by the top science journals. The letter should be short to the point and emphasize the conceptual advance to the field. Some see it needs to be flashy. Skip the bits about introducing yourself.

  12. In my field, the cover letter should state why the contents of the article are of particular interest to the journal’s readership. The broader the journal’s readership, the broader appeal the article should have and the case needs to be made in the cover letter. This should take the form of stating how the topic fits with the journal’s stated aims / mission; why the research is timely, and what readers would be interested in it. It should only take 2-3 sentences. Sometimes journals require other formalities after this: the work was approved by an IRB and any COI disclosures. I ALWAYS include a statement that the work has not been published nor is under consideration elsewhere.

  13. Thank you very much for this article. I had no clue what a cover letter for a manuscript should look like. I will put this on my blog too, which I rarely update.

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  15. I want to resubmit the revised version of my paper to proposed journal, but I do not know how do I start letter for reviewers ? Can help me?

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  18. This is my time that I am going write journal article cover letter. But I am confused with the last part of the cover letter i.e. adding reviewers. Is it really necessary or I can proceed without it too?

  19. Hi,

    I submitted a paper and I got a R&R 🙂
    There are no indications on how to present changes. Do I have to highlight the new parts directly in the text? underlying them? quoting?
    thank you very much


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