It may seem obvious, but a journal editor's first serious impression of a submitted manuscript lies not only with the article title but also, rather simply, with the cover letter. The cover letter is your first "formal" interaction with a journal, and it embodies a request, so to speak, to consider your article for publication. But it also provides you with an excellent opportunity to present the significance of your scientific contribution.
I've worked as an editor for primary research and review manuscripts alike, and despite their many similarities, there are distinctions to writing the cover letter for each. Here are some helpful tips for writing a suitable cover letter for Cell Press scientific journals.
Cover letter basics: What do we look for?
1. Let's start with content. We look for letters that start by succinctly explaining what was previously known in a given field and then state the authors' motivation for wishing to publish. Following that, the conceptual advance, timeliness, and novelty should be immediately conveyed. What sets apart this scientific contribution? What is the significance of the work, and where does the article lead us? Will this research be of interest to a broad readership?
2. Get to the point. We want a concise letter that quickly gets to the main point and the take-home message; this sets the stage for your manuscript. Succinctly explain the topic of discussion, and quickly convey the key conclusions. Do not submit a long dissertation. Generally, one page suffices and is preferred.
3. Do not rehash the abstract of the paper. Copying and pasting the abstract into your cover letter verbatim is a big no-no. Instead, we seek a synthesis of the key points—possibly, and depending on style, the summary might resemble a brief story pitch in an elevator! But importantly, you need to venture beyond the summary: write a sentence that takes you further than the obvious conclusions. How does the content move the field forward? Are the implications far-reaching?
4. Get excited! Authors' excitement about their scientific contributions can undoubtedly inspire the editor who's reading the cover letter. Overall, the sentiment of "you're gonna love reading this paper!" should seep through—make that happen!
5. Include a wish list of reviewers. Relevant information on potential reviewers (including their field of expertise) can be included and is definitely a plus, as it can be quite helpful to the editor. By contrast, please don't provide a long list of excluded reviewers (three maximum), and most certainly do not suggest excluding authors from entire continents on the map! Also, save the editor some time by specifying which author should be the lead contact, and indicate their affiliation.
6. Keep it simple ... and humble. In terms of style, consider sincerity and simplicity. The letter should be humble and forthcoming; don't be ostentatious or florid. Claims of priority, if not fully supported, tend to be a turnoff. In addition, statements indicating that the article or related findings have been presented at X number of conferences and are "tremendously" well received by the scientific community—or otherwise—do not add much to the cover letter. They might instead suggest right off the bat that a lot of cooing and convincing of the journal editor will be required. So let the "science" speak for itself. Also, a statement declaring that the article is original and isn't being considered elsewhere can only add to your cause!
7. Proofread your letter by checking the spelling, grammar, and syntax. A well-written letter indicates that you take your submission seriously and that you are an author who pays attention to detail.
8. Check every detail. Avoid mistakes such as directing the cover letter to the editor(s) of a different journal, or to a different journal altogether. This might suggest that you've submitted your article elsewhere, that it might have been poorly received, and perhaps that the Cell Press journal you're submitting to isn't your first choice. It could also suggest that you don't pay sufficient attention to detail. Sadly, these sorts of errors continue to surprise me and happen more often than I would like.
The cover letter: Primary research or Trends reviews?
There are subtle differences in writing a cover letter for a primary research journal versus a reviews journal, such as the Trends journals at Cell Press.
Many different article formats exist within both the primary research journals and the Trends journals. Make sure it's very clear which type of format you're submitting. As the Editor of Trends in Molecular Medicine, I find that this detail is not always specified by the author(s) in the cover letter. Knowing what type of manuscript you are submitting can help you fully nail down the cover letter in terms of the intent, scope, and take-home message of the article. It also recapitulates your prior agreement with the editor regarding article format: is it a review or an opinion piece?
Along these lines, the content of your cover letter will differ for a review or opinion piece as opposed to an original research contribution. For both, the timeliness and novelty need to strongly come across. However, for a research article, the specific advance relative to previous experimental findings needs to be clearly indicated. For a Trends article, the synthesis and conceptual advance should be particularly stated in terms of what is new and has been trending in the field for the last one to five years. For an opinion piece, take a strong and novel stance on a hypothesis or idea. Projecting into the future, beyond the main take-home message of the paper, is also a strong consideration for Trends articles.
I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the journal that you are submitting to—browse through the journal website and do your homework on author guidelines and the scope of the journal prior to submission! In the case of Trends journals, know who the editor is. Each Trends journal is run by a single editor, so beginning your cover letter with "Dear Madam" when the editor is male, or "Dear Sir" when the editor is female, may not create a favorable impression. While such mistakes are usually overruled by the content and quality of the science, it certainly helps to have your cover letter completely in order!
Keep on writing—we love hearing from you and receiving your submissions! For more tips on writing cover letters for scientific manuscripts, check out this page. Also read more from Cell Press Editor in Chief Emilie Marcus on when—and when not—to submit your paper.
Three Cover Letter Templates to Journal Editors
Each cover letter is unique, and those addressed to journal editors by scientists and academics when they submit their writing for publication are no exception. As an opportunity to present original research in the best possible light, a cover letter is indispensible for persuading a busy editor that a manuscript is worthy of peer review. A letter can only achieve this goal, however, if it is well written, contains everything the particular journal’s author instructions request for cover letters and offers specific and detailed information about why the research reported and the paper itself are perfect for the journal and of special interest to its readers. The originality that should characterise an excellent cover letter therefore prevents the wholesale use of a universal template without significant alterations, but the three sample letters that appear below may prove helpful for scholars who are planning, formatting and drafting a professional cover letter to a journal editor.
The content of the three sample letters is entirely fictional, with the dates, names, titles and situations invented. The specifics pertinent to your own research, your manuscript and the journal you are targeting will give you the raw material to emulate these templates. The format of a traditional business letter has been observed, so contact information for the authors and editors has been provided as complete mailing addresses. This formality may not be strictly necessary when communicating with a journal editor via email, where such details are often truncated, but the complete forms are always acceptable, and proper names and titles are a necessity. If possible, the official letterhead of the university, department or other research body with which you are affiliated should be used along with your name, phone number and professional email address.
Descriptions of the research and manuscript in each of the three examples have been kept simple so that the meaning will be clear to readers of all specialisations, but there are certainly successful cover letters that delve into a good deal more detail. Letter 2 below, for instance, might productively say more about the specific lights used and tomato plants grown and provide numbers and percentages as well. Do keep in mind, however, that the clarity and accessibility offered by a short and simple approach is also valuable, particularly when writing to an editor who may not share your precise specialisation.
Letter 1 adopts the perspective of a doctoral candidate who has rewritten the literature review chapter of his thesis as a bibliographical study and is seeking publication for the first time. Letter 2 introduces a research paper written by several authors and demonstrates how to act as the corresponding author when submitting a multi-author manuscript. Letter 3 posits that the author met the journal editor at a recent conference where an earlier version of the paper now being submitted for a theme issue of the journal was presented.
Letter 1: A Doctoral Candidate Seeking His First Publication
Department of English
University of the Western Shore
San Francisco, CA, USA 98765
Dr. Brian Editing
Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography
New York, NY, USA 12345
November 8, 2017
Dear Dr. Editing,
I am writing to submit my article entitled ‘A Bibliography of Hoccleve Studies from the Fifteenth Century to 2017: Patterns of Readership and Response’ for publication in the Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography. This manuscript is based on a chapter of my doctoral thesis, supervised by Dr Hoccleve Specialist, and has not been published or submitted elsewhere for consideration.
I believe this manuscript is appropriate for the Journal of Analytical Middle English Bibliography because it combines a complete list and critical summary of previous studies with an in-depth analysis of not only individual contributions, but also the larger patterns of scholarship and their possible significance through the centuries. As I argue in the paper, the autobiographical nature of Hoccleve’s writing and the bouts of madness he claims to have experienced are topics upon which perspectives and approaches swing on a particularly long pendulum. Shifts in opinion regarding the literary quality of Hoccleve’s poetry are similarly striking. Current trends and the annotated Hoccleve bibliography will likely prove of special interest to many of your readers, enabling future research and encouraging scholarly self-awareness.
If you decide to consider the manuscript for publication, I suggest the following two experts as qualified reviewers:
Dr. Medieval Scholarship
Professor of English, Southern University
Dr. Manuscript Expert
Director of Medieval Studies, Northern University
Many thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.
Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Assistant
Department of English
University of the Western Shore
Letter 2: A Corresponding Author Submitting an Article Written by Several Researchers
Private Plant Research Institute
9201 Pink Greenhouse Place
Coquitlam, BC, Canada, V0V 1A1
Dr Samuel Botanist
Growing Our Greenhouse: A Journal of Current Research
2020 Glass Hill
Colorado Springs, CO, USA, 59678
November 22, 2017
Dear Dr Botanist,
I am delighted to submit an original research article entitled ‘LED Lights Increase Vitamin C Content in Greenhouse Cherry Tomatoes’ for publication in Growing Our Greenhouse: A Journal of Current Research. My colleagues and I at the Private Plant Research Institute in Coquitlam conducted the research and coauthored the manuscript; a full list of the names and affiliations of all ten coauthors is attached. We have all approved the manuscript for submission to Growing Our Greenhouse, and I have been chosen as the corresponding author.
The article is particularly appropriate for the journal’s section dedicated to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. It is, in fact, a continuation of the research presented in our article ‘Can LED Lights Really Replace the Sun for Tomatoes?’ which was published in that section of Growing Our Greenhouse two years ago. Then we were analysing the results of our first two seasons of growing tomatoes under LED lights. One of the unexpected discoveries we made as we determined which plants and lights produced the best results was that vitamin C content appeared to increase when the ripening fruit was exposed to LED light.
The research reported in the manuscript I am submitting today was designed to investigate further the apparent increases in vitamin C. Its methodology is similar to that of our earlier study, but we used only those cherry tomato plants that we had already shown could thrive under LED lights. We also established a larger number of experimental groups to explore the effects of variables such as light colour, light intensity, hours of exposure, ambient temperature and presence or absence of sunlight. Our findings were convincing to say the least, with vitamin C content doubling and sometimes trebling in fruit exposed to additional LED light. Even fruit given only LED lighting and deprived of all natural sunlight far exceeded the vitamin C content of those tomatoes exposed to natural sunlight alone.
We trust that your readers will find our hands-on empirical method as effective as they have in the past and benefit from our practices and discoveries as they grow and experiment in their own greenhouses.
Thank you for your continuing interest and consideration.
Research Director, Private Plant Research Institute
Letter 3: A Conference Participant Submitting a Paper to the Journal Editor She Met
Chair, School of Business Management
2121 University Road
York, North Yorkshire, UK, YO33 7EE
Dr Margaret Publisher
Journal of Innovative Business Studies
178B West Central Avenue
London, UK, EC9M 6BB
25 November 2017
Dear Dr Publisher,
It was a pleasure meeting you and discussing our similar interests at the Business Management conference in London a couple of weeks ago. As promised, I have revised my presentation and am submitting it for your consideration for the upcoming issue of the Journal of Innovative Business Studies dedicated to management innovations. The new title of the manuscript is ‘Empathy as a Management Strategy Yields Significant Increases in Efficiency and Productivity.’
You might recall that we discussed the challenges of reshaping my presentation, which was designed to generate in conference attendees the emotional responses it discusses, to conform to the structural requirements of the Journal of Innovative Business Studies. The journal’s author instructions were actually very helpful, and I believe the overall argument of the paper is now clearer as a result of the rearrangement. I also took a look at the recent Journal of Innovative Business Studies articles by Sally Scholar and John Researcher that you recommended. The former was particularly helpful and I have cited it more than once in my closing discussion. That discussion has benefited significantly from our long talk at the conference and I hope you do not object to my acknowledgement of your insight.
As you know, the research presented in the manuscript is original and has not been published or submitted elsewhere. My methods comply with the journal’s ethical standards, I have no conflicts of interest to disclose and I have removed all traces of my identity in preparation for blind review. I would respectfully request that Stephen Harsh not review the manuscript, however. His knowledge in this area is extensive, but you may remember from his comments at the conference that he does not share my approach to management or view my recent research with a positive eye. I believe the following two experts would serve as more appropriate reviewers of my paper:
CEO, Management Innovations UK Inc.
Chair, Department of Business Management
University of the Wolds
I look forward to seeing you at the upcoming conference in Leeds. In the meantime, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your interest and consideration.
Chair, School of Business Management
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