Introducing and Describing an Article in Appealing Ways
The way in which you introduce and describe your article is also vital to achieving successful publication. Although many scholarly journals no longer request or require a covering letter to accompany an article submission, unless the journal you have chosen indicates that one should not be included, it is most helpful to add one to your submission because an informative and well-written covering letter can have an enormous impact. The covering letter is usually the first piece of your writing that the journal editor reads, and it allows you to address that editor directly and explain exactly what your work is along with any aspects of it that are especially unique, innovative or important. It also gives you the opportunity to highlight the ways in which your work is relevant to the journal’s publishing agenda and the scholarly community the journal targets. Remember that the same material can look very different when presented in different ways for different audiences, and take care to describe your paper in ways that suit the focus and concerns of the journal. For example, if you arrived at innovative conclusions after a review of relevant literature and the journal prides itself on publishing traditional scholarship – just the sort of journal, by the way, in which such conclusions might have the maximum effect – emphasise in your letter how your research is based upon a careful review of the scholarly tradition. If, on the other hand, your paper compares surgical treatments of an ailment with nonsurgical treatments and the journal you think the best fit for it focuses on surgery, highlight the surgical aspect of your work in your covering letter, whether the results you present favour surgical methods or not.
Anticipating in such ways the needs of the journal’s editor is central to composing an effective covering letter, but keep in mind as well that your covering letter is also a sample of your writing, your persuasive skills and your professional perspective – it holds out great promise (or not) for the paper that follows. The language you use should be both eloquent and utterly correct, and although your tone should certainly come across as confident, learned and sophisticated, excessive detail and specialised terminology should be avoided or kept to a bare minimum. You want to let the editor know that you are an expert in your field, that you are familiar with the terms and methods used in the research areas covered by the journal and that you are aware of the high quality and significance of your work, but you do not want to lose that most important reader through a hint of arrogance or a lack of clarity – you want him or her to read on and discover the complexities and brilliance of your work in the paper itself. You also want to come across in your initial (as in all) correspondence as a professional author who is willing and able to work efficiently and flexibly (if necessary) with journal staff to promote and enhance the publication process.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.