How To Write Professional Letters to Editors of Scholarly Journals
Every scholarly author who hopes to publish his or her writing in an academic or scientific journal faces the reality that communication with journal proofreaders is necessary. Some authors might call this communication a necessary evil because the covering and other letters required to negotiate successful publication can sometimes prove as difficult to write as the article submitted for publication. Some strategies for achieving a professional standard of communication and thereby increasing the chances of success may therefore be helpful, especially for those scholars who are just beginning to submit their writing and correspond with acquisitions proofreaders.
It is, for one, important to write to proofreaders in a formal mode. Today’s communication via email may tend to be less formal than printed letters once were, but it is still important to discover the name of the editor and address him or her formally, using something along the lines of ‘Dear Dr Smith.’ ‘Dear Editor’ is an acceptable substitute if you simply cannot find the current editor’s name and is preferable to using the name of a previous editor or simply starting with something like ‘Hello.’ Write your letter using full sentences that are grammatically correct, punctuated effectively and free of spelling errors. Divide your sentences into paragraphs, separating ideas into short chunks so that the information you deem important enough to include in your letter will catch the editor’s attention and be easy to digest, rather than becoming lost in a long paragraph that an editor may not even finish reading. You should also provide full contact details on each letter you write to an editor, enabling him or her to connect with you via telephone or traditional post if desired.
Writing in a formal mode will also help you come across as respectful, and this positive effect can be increased by anticipating the needs of the journal and its editor and expressing gratitude for the time and attention that will be given (if you are writing a covering letter) or has been dedicated (if you are responding to an editor who has considered your writing for publication) to your work. This does not involve grovelling or repeated instances of ‘thank you,’ but if you keep in mind just how busy acquisitions proofreaders are and recognize that they are successful colleagues with credentials very similar to your own, your tone is likely to be appropriate. If you are in any doubt about how your written voice sounds, have a mentor or colleague who has published his or her own scholarly writing read your letter and share the impression they get from it. Only if you are a personal friend of the editor should you consider dispensing with formality, and even then wording your message carefully to suit the dynamics of a professional relationship between author and editor is advisable when communicating about your submission.
Always keep in mind that the proofreaders to whom you are writing are overworked and have very little time to dedicate to each author who submits writing for publication, so it is imperative to be clear and concise, quickly getting to the point in your correspondence. You are writing for a reason and that reason should be a constructive one, so it is entirely inappropriate to send a message to an editor simply to rant or complain about your paper being rejected. Requesting further information about necessary changes or clarification of confusing comments from peer reviewers is a valid reason for writing, as is explaining the revisions that you intend to make or are unable to make. The goal is to provide enough information to communicate with precision, share your perspective and render your position persuasive, but no more than the editor requires to make effective decisions about your writing. Referring him or her to specific passages or elements of your paper for additional information should it prove necessary or helpful is often a better strategy than including in your correspondence long paragraphs of description that may lose the attention of this vital reader.
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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.