What To Avoid in Your Covering Letter To a Scholarly Journal
Providing a covering letter to accompany your submission to a scholarly journal or publisher can be immensely helpful for both you and the acquisitions editor, but to achieve serious consideration by editors and ultimately successful publication it is essential to avoid certain common problems. Even if all the right sort of information is included in your covering letter, these problems can negate the positive effect of your hard work and lose an editor’s interest or even irritate him or her, producing a result that is quite the opposite of what you intended. It therefore seems useful to outline some of these common tendencies and emphasise the importance of avoiding them.
While it is essential to highlight the innovative nature of your research and its value in your covering letter, it is equally essential not to sound arrogant or to overvalue your work. Attaining the necessary balance in describing your work and its implications requires familiarity with research in your discipline, field and subject area, as well as an honest assessment of your own research and its position within that body of knowledge. Asking an experienced and published colleague who specialises in your area to read your covering letter and make suggestions can be immensely helpful.
It is wise not to provide a long biography of yourself and your career unless this is specifically requested. Generally speaking, an acquisitions editor will be interested in the manuscript you are submitting, but not in your life story or career as a whole, though if you are successful in publishing your work, there may come a time when a longer biography is wanted. In your initial covering letter, however, the focus should be the submission at hand, and while it may prove useful to mention particular connections such as the fact that your writing reports research from a larger project that has already produced work published by that journal or publisher, lengthier journeys into your life story are extraneous and should be avoided.
It is almost impossible to emphasise how important it is that your covering letter is not poorly written. There should obviously be no errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation in your prose, but all other problems with your writing style should also be ironed out before you send your covering letter and manuscript to the journal or publisher of your choice. As a sample of your writing that will be read before your manuscript is, clear, concise and correct communication is vital for inspiring interest and confidence in an acquisitions editor. Engaging the services of a professional proofreader may prove extremely helpful to ensure that your letter is polished to perfection, particularly if you feel less than confident in your writing skills.
Finally, never make your covering letter too long. Yes, there is a great deal to say, but you must be selective, which will not only allow the key points to stand out, but also prevent you from wasting a busy editor’s valuable time. As a general rule, then, a covering letter should not exceed the equivalent of a single printed page.
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