How To Use Cover Letter Templates When Writing to Journal Editors
Templates are all the rage online and every expert offering one claims that it will simplify a necessary task, usually a task considered especially mundane or difficult. There are, for instance, a great many templates available for the academic or scientific author who wishes to provide a persuasive cover letter to accompany the manuscript he or she submits to a journal editor for publication. Some of these templates are certainly helpful; others are far from it, with the problem being that scholars who are already struggling to introduce their research in a well-written cover letter may find it particularly difficult to distinguish the good from the bad or the truly ugly. A quick search turns up more than one template that contains as many errors – of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, logic and typing – as reusable sentences. Cover letter templates must, then, be used with extreme caution, and the scholar who wishes to compose a cover letter that will catch the attention of a busy journal editor and earn a manuscript serious consideration is wise to apply the critical acumen so frequently exercised in advanced research to the assessment and use of online templates.
One of the primary goals of an effective cover letter is to present a manuscript in ways that lift it, if only a little, above the mass of submissions that crowd a journal editor’s workday. Copying a free online template and using it so religiously that you simply fill in the blanks with your own information and add a sentence or two about your research is unlikely to make your letter or your paper stand out. Indeed, it is more probable that it will blend your writing all too smoothly into that pile of manuscripts that may never be sent on for peer review. If you choose a poorly written template, the effect can be still more detrimental. Try to think of it from the perspective of a professional editor. One encounter with those terrible sentences may be irritating, though not enough to reject a paper immediately, but reading them for the hundredth time could inspire even the most forgiving editor to toss a submission aside before the entire letter is read, even – and this is the most unfortunate part – if the paper reports brilliant research that perfectly fits the journal’s publishing agenda.
This is not to say, however, that the cover letter templates freely available online cannot be effectively used to help you compose a professional letter that will prove unique and engaging for a journal editor while also providing the necessary information and presenting your research and manuscript in the best possible light. The key is to take a close look at not one or two templates, but several, using them as samples from which to borrow and apply individual elements and ideas that seem most relevant to your paper and the targeted journal. An attractive format and structure, an especially engaging flow of contents, elegant phrasing, accessible terminology and other aspects of templates can be selectively emulated and combined to create a unique cover letter. Do be sure to consult the journal’s instructions for authors to check for any specific guidelines about cover letters and to familiarise yourself with its publishing aims and scope. These should be prioritised as you mine the most helpful templates and choose which aspects of your research and paper to mention and emphasise. Remember that the best cover letters are brief (a single printed page is ideal), so you will need to be selective, which may be easier if you keep in mind that much of the information included in a journal’s online submission form need not be repeated in your cover letter unless the author instructions specifically call for it.
Using templates in this way can certainly enable you to write a professional cover letter that will help you persuade a journal editor to send your paper on for review. The process is unlikely to be straightforward or easy, however. Drafting a clear, informative and interesting cover letter never is, after all, and even the best templates can only render the task more efficient. Once you have your letter drafted, you will also need to proofread, edit and polish it to remove all errors and awkward or unclear phrases. A trusted mentor or colleague who has successfully published similar scholarship can provide an informed second opinion, and the services of an academic or scientific proofreader will be invaluable if you remain unsure about your ability to express your thoughts clearly and accurately in formal prose. The goal is to achieve a clear and concise style that will not only describe your article and its importance, but also advertise the excellence of the writing to be found in your manuscript.
Three downloadable samples of professional cover letters that may prove helpful as you compose your own letter to a journal editor can be found below. Each is written from a different perspective: a doctoral candidate seeking a first publication, a researcher acting as the corresponding author of a multi-author paper and a conference participant who met a journal editor interested in her presentation. Together they demonstrate compelling ways in which to describe advanced research, include mundane details and journal requirements, address the thorny matter of reviewers and negotiate varying publication situations.
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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.