Writing the Perfect Covering Letter when Submitting an Article to an Academic or Scientific Journal
Although a covering letter is not always a necessary aspect of submitting an article to an academic or scientific journal, a carefully written covering letter can significantly increase the chances that your paper will receive the sort of attention you would wish. Unfortunately, a poorly written covering letter can have just the opposite effect, so while it is wise to make the extra effort and include a covering letter with your journal submission even when it is not required, it is also essential that your covering letter be perfect, or at least as perfect as it possibly can be.
Absolutely central to any covering letter is an explanation of why your article is appropriate for the journal to which you are submitting it. Your topic, the range and specialisation of your research, your approach and methodology, the nature of your findings, the length of your paper and even the presence (or not) of figures, tables and notes can be determining factors in choosing a journal for your work, as can other aspects of your paper. In your covering letter you should highlight the most important of these, ideally including not only what you consider most significant in your work, but also what the journal editor will likely consider so. This requires a little reflective research into the range and specialisation of the journal that interests you, but that should be an essential part of shaping your paper for a particular journal in any case.
While you explain why your paper is right for the journal, you should also take the opportunity to emphasise what is innovative and groundbreaking in your work. This involves a delicate balance of neither overvaluing nor undervaluing your article, and while you must come across as confident and thoroughly convinced that your work is of great value to your scholarly community, you must also be realistic and assess its value honestly in relation to the primary objectives of the journal. Specifics are usually more effective than generalisations when describing your original contributions to knowledge in your area, and relating your work to other articles published by the journal can be an extremely constructive way of demonstrating how your paper fits the journal perfectly and builds on research it has already published.
There is no doubt that your submission will be taken more seriously if your covering letter is beautifully written. As the first piece of your prose the journal editor will be reading, the covering letter stands as a sample of your writing. Clear, concise communication without errors of grammar, spelling or punctuation effectively informs the editor about your submission and also gives that editor a good idea of how well written your paper is. A covering letter can inspire an editor to dive into your article immediately or set it aside in the slush pile, so it is always a good idea to have a knowledgeable colleague or professional proofreader take a careful look at your covering letter as well as your article before you submit them to a scholarly journal.
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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.