Sunday, December 11, 2016

How to Write a Manuscript Submission Cover Letter

The communication of our research findings is a foundational pillar to our careers as scientists. One of the most common ways we scientists share information is by publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals. This primary method of information dissemination allows us to share our research findings both to our colleagues as well as the public at large. When preparing a manuscript for submission to a journal for peer review and subsequent publication, a lot of work goes into preparing a variety of documents. One of the important documents is a cover letter to the editor. This letter represents a significant hurdle for new and young researchers because it is often unclear what a cover letter should actually look like, and what information should be included. In this week's post I want to go over what a good cover letter could look like and how you can write your own. I say this is what it could look like because there is certainly a lot of room for interpretation and personal style, and there are many correct ways to do it. Here I am just going to cover one potential way to tackle the problem.

Before we get into the specifics, let's first discuss what a cover letter actually is. Again the exact answer can vary between people, but I think most could agree that it is an opportunity to introduce the journal editor to the manuscript you are submitting. This is an opportunity for you to briefly introduce the problem you are addressing, explain why your manuscript is important, and discuss why your manuscript should be published in that journal. Additionally, you can provide some of the subtle information associated with the paper, such as suggested reviewers and whether the article is already available in pre-print. This is not supposed to be a repeat of your abstract, but really just a brief letter providing an introduction to the entire work you are submitting.

So this description is fine and you can probably find something like that on some journal websites, but it is still vague. What does all of that look like in practice? To make it clearer, lets go through an example that I wrote out for this blog. The content is just a fictional example for a manuscript written by Jane Appleseed (first author) and Marissa Mayer (corresponding author). While the specific content is nonsense, the structure and themes for each section are real. Here is the general structure that you could follow for your own manuscript submission.

So there you have it, an example of how to write a cover letter for your next manuscript submission. As I said above, this is meant to be an example of how you could do it, but there are many good ways to write submission cover letters. The best way to learn how to write a good cover letter is to ask to read many of your colleagues' letters to see what you like about their style and structure.

If you have your own advice on how to write a successful cover letter, or have further questions, let us know in the comments below. As always, you can feel free to reach out to me on Twitter and by email as well. Happy submitting!

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