How to write a great cover letter for a scientific manuscript

woman-using-computer-1208423-mYou have worked hard to prepare your manuscript for submission to a journal you have chosen carefully. Now, introduce your manuscript with a great cover letter. Although many authors hastily compose this document, the cover letter can make or break your chances of publication: it can make the difference between being granted a peer review and being rejected outright. Follow the guidelines below to make your cover letter and manuscript stand out. Feel free to use this template to construct your cover letter, and modify it according to your needs.

The basic elements of the cover letter include a heading/salutation, the body, and the closing:

Heading and salutation
  • The heading includes the name and title of the Editor-in-Chief or handling editor, the name of the journal, and the date. See a sample heading here.
  • The salutation is a standard greeting (e.g., Dear Dr xxx:) addressed to the Editor-in-Chief or handling editor. If you cannot find the name of the appropriate editor, you can write “Dear Editor:”
Body
  • The body is the heart of the cover letter; this is where you will make the case for why your paper should be granted a peer review.
  • Begin with a concise opening statement announcing that you are submitting a manuscript entitled [“your title”] for consideration as a Research Article, Letter, Brief Communication, Note, or other format tailored to the journal. See a sample opening statement here.
  • Next, provide a brief but compelling description or summary of the most important or interesting findings addressed by your manuscript. If you have previous publications that provide the context for your study, you can briefly mention them here with the supporting citations. This summary will help to determine whether the editor will consider your paper further. The summary should be limited to just a few sentences. Consider the following points to help you craft your summary:
    • Why is your study important?
    • What are your most interesting findings?
    • What are the implications and broader significance of the findings?
    • What gaps in the research does your study fill?
  • After the description of your study, provide a brief statement of how or why the work is relevant to the scope of the target journal and of interest to its readership. This should be based on the statedAims and Scopeof the journal and on your knowledge of the journal’s content. A strong statement says more than that you “believe” your findings are relevant and of interest. How does your work relate to the journal’s focus and other research published in it? This section should show that you have made a well-informed choice when selecting the target journal for your manuscript. See a sample summary and statement of relevance here.
  • The final paragraph of the body covers a few formalities (see example here). This paragraph should confirm that:
    • The research is original.
    • The manuscript has not been published elsewhere and is not under consideration by any other journal.
    • All the authors have approved of the submission of the manuscript to this journal.
    • There are no conflicts of interest.
    • Informed consent was provided (humans), and appropriate ethical standards were followed (humans and animals)—if relevant.
    • Suggested reviewers: Many journals invite or require authors to list recommended peer reviewers for their manuscript and to mention any individuals they would strongly prefer NOT to review the manuscript (e.g., because of a conflict of interest). Select these individuals carefully, and keep these statements polite.
Closing
  • The final sentence should simply express appreciation for the editor’s consideration. For example, “Thank you for your consideration of our manuscript. I look forward to hearing from you.”
  • An appropriate and common closing is “Sincerely.” The closing is followed by your signature and typed name, institutional affiliation and address, and contact information (see a sample closing here).
Key Points
  • Editors want to know that you have selected their journal based on your familiarity with its focus and content and the appropriateness of your work to its scope and readership. It is advantageous to you to help the Editor-in-Chief to understand how your paper complements other research published in the journal. Doing this does not guarantee that your manuscript will receive a peer review, but failing to do this may reduce the chances that your work will stand out and be taken seriously.
  • The cover letter should be concise. Editors read many cover letters each day and may simply skim over letters that are longer than a few short paragraphs.
  • Clearly emphasize why the research is important, novel, or interesting.
  • Avoid presenting numeric details and other highly specific results unless they are essential to your conclusion.
  • Some journals have specific requirements for cover letters. Read the journal’s “Instructions for authors” carefully, and make sure that all required contents are included.
  • If your study builds on previous work that you have published, or directly relates to other papers published in the target journal, it is appropriate to mention that and to cite these studies in the letter.
  • The cover letter must be well written and free of spelling and grammar errors. If there are glaring errors in this important document, the Editor-in-Chief may assume that your manuscript will also be sloppy. At best, the editor is likely to have low expectations for your manuscript if the cover letter is poorly written. Always run a spelling and grammar check, and have a colleague review your cover letter before you send it.

Do you have questions or insights about writing cover letters? Please leave your comments and questions below.

Anne Altor PhD, PWS

Anne Altor

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Anne AltorHow to write a great cover letter for a scientific manuscript

Comments 37

  1. Dr.Sobia Manzoor

    Dear Dr. Altor

    I am deeply thankful to you and appreciate your esteemed efforts to guide the junior and young researchers.
    I have learned a lot from your guide lines on the subject.

    Best Regards
    Dr.Sobia

  2. Melanie

    Dear Dr. Altor

    Your guidelines on how to write a cover letter are very helpful. Thank you very much for these great tips and instructions!

    I am currently writing a cover letter and I would like to include a citation. Could you comment on the style of the citation? In the template it says to provide the citation in parentheses. Is the full (bibliographic) required? Could you give an example?

    Any comment from you on this subject would be much appreciated.

    Best regards,
    Melanie

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Melanie,
      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad this post has been helpful to you. Thank you also for your question about citations in cover letters. There are no hard-and-fast rules about including citations in cover letters, but here are some pointers:

      1. Include only the most relevant citations. Every piece of information in a cover letter should support the goal of your letter, which we’ll assume is to convince an editor of the value and relevance of your manuscript.
      2. In keeping with point #1, keep the number of citations to a minimum – the cover letter is an introduction to you and your current work, not an in-depth piece of literature.
      3. Including citations that relate directly to the work you are submitting can show that you have a track record and history of research in the subject area. I would recommend using the journal’s citation style in your letter. Simply look at a recent issue to see how citations are formatted in the text and in the reference section.
      4. Authors sometimes cite other researchers’ work in their cover letter, when it is directly relevant to and supportive of their submission. This is more common in responses to reviewers, however. In general, work cited in the cover letter should be your own.

      Here is an example of an introductory paragraph with a citation:

      Dear Dr. Strong:
      We are pleased to submit the attached research article entitled “Herbaceous wetlands: a critical and threatened carbon sink” for consideration for publication as a Report in Ecology. We previously showed that herbaceous wetlands continue to be lost at an alarming rate despite protections offered by the Clean Water Act (Altor et al., 2015). Here, we expand on that work to discuss carbon storage in emergent wetlands and the important role these ecosystems play in the context of climatic change.

      You would include the full citation(s) as it would appear in your References section at the end of the cover letter, after the closing.

      I hope this is helpful. Best wishes with your submission, and feel free to reply with any additional questions!

      Kind regards,
      Anne

  3. Patricia Elizabeth Figueroa Millan

    Dear Dr. Altor
    Thanks for your guidelines in this matter.

    Do you could provide to me and example about how to mention that the current work is a continuation and extension of a previous published work?. And how to cite it?.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Patricia,

      Thank you for your question. It is important (and advantageous) to let the editor know when the work you are submitting is a continuation of previous work or builds on earlier findings. This shows that you have a publication history and track record in that area of research. You can mention this very simply, such as in this example:

      Dear [editor]:
      We are pleased to submit the attached research article entitled “Mycorrhizae in tidal wetlands: key players in nutrient cycling” for consideration for publication as a Report in Biogeochemistry. We previously showed that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) are more common in tidal salt marshes than was previously thought and that these mutualistic relationships improved the photosynthetic capacity of Spartina patens over plants that were not colonized by mycorrhizal fungi (Figueroa Millan et al., 2015). Here, we expand on that work to discuss our findings that extensive networks of AMF play a significant role in phosphorus and nitrogen cycling by improving the survival of colonized plants in salt-affected systems. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of climate change and rising sea levels.

      Then, at the end of your cover letter (after the closing), you would include the full citation(s) as it would appear in the References section of your paper, formatted according to the style used by the target journal.

      I hope this is helpful. Best wishes with your research and writing!
      Anne

  4. Reem

    Dear Dr. Altor,

    I am grateful for your detailed well-organised article. I just have a question, if the journal doesn’t require cover letter, may I use similar but more concise form in the comment for editor section? If no, please tell me what is the best to mention in this section.

    Thank you in advance,

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Reem,

      Thank you for your question. If a journal does not require a formal cover letter, it is still in your interest to take this opportunity to let the editor know why you have selected his or her journal for your paper and to make a case for considering your manuscript.

      Make the comments for the editor as concise as possible so that your statement is easy to read and remember. Focus on the points discussed in the “Body” section of this blog post. If you have answered questions in other parts of the submission process about the research being original and not under consideration for publication elsewhere, do not restate these points here.

      Close your comments with a simple, brief statement of your appreciation for the editor’s consideration.

      I hope this is helpful. Best wishes with your manuscripts, and feel free to post any other questions!

      Anne

  5. Madhu

    Dear Dr. Anne,
    Thank you for a very useful blog. It is insightful.

    I am submitting a second article to the same journal. The present one is a follow up investigation of our previous report. I am thinking to request the Editor to send the article to the same reviewers who evaluated our previous study. I feel they can evaluate better as they are aware of the subject.

    Do you think such a request makes sense. Any suggestion would you give on how better i can frame the request in the cover letter.

    Thanks,
    Madhu

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Madhu,

      Thank you for your comment and question.

      I so not see any harm in requesting the same reviewers; however, the Editor may or may not grant your request, and keep in mind that those reviewers might not currently be available. I would not place strong emphasis on your request for the same reviewers, because that could give the impression that you are not confident that other researchers would also give your work a favorable review. You could consider wording your request like this: “The researchers who provided anonymous peer reviews of our previous paper (citation here) showed a good understanding of our work and provided constructive feedback. Because our current manuscript describes a follow-up study, we suggest that those reviewers be considered for this paper. Other suggested peer reviewers include…” and then provide the names and contact information for a couple other researchers who you think would give a fair and competent review. Such wording should make your request known without giving the impression that you lack confidence in the peer-review process.

      I hope this is helpful. Best wishes with your manuscript!
      Anne

  6. Gustavo Pavani

    Dear Anne. Thank you for your tips.
    If I am the only author of the article, can I use “I” instead of “We” in the cover letter?

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Gustavo,
      Thanks for your comment and question. You can certainly use “I” instead of “We” if you are the only author, and in my opinion it makes more sense to do so. However, if a research group performed the work you are describing, you might want to use “We”. That is not generally the case though for single-author papers. Good luck!
      Anne

  7. Nilamoni Barman

    Dear Ma’am
    Thank you very much for your guide lines which have been posted on the website. recently I have submitted a manuscript in a reputed journal, but unfortunately rejected. The editor said “there are many mistakes throughout the manuscript and advised me to take help from professional writer “. However, before submitting the same, I have checked the manuscripts in different softwares for better expression. Now, I don’t know, what to do. Please suggest me some advice to improve my english language.

    Thanking you

    Nilamoni Barman

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Nilamoni,
      I’m sorry that your manuscript was rejected, but the fact that it was rejected for language problems rather than technical content is positive, in my opinion. I commend all researchers whose first language is not English but who nevertheless must publish their papers in English, because the process takes significant extra effort. Many native English speakers have trouble writing clearly as well. Using software to help with language issues may be a good first step. May I ask what programs you used? However, software cannot capture the nuances of meaning and expression used in writing. I recommend that you find a colleague who you trust and kindly ask him or her if s/he is available to read and critique your paper. However, it might not be fair or appropriate to ask a colleague to edit the paper for you, because that could take more time than they can afford. You could also seek the help of a professional editor with expertise in your field. I provide editing services, as do many other individuals and agencies. You could upload your paper and request a free estimate for the work. Many researchers find that professional editing is very helpful and improves the probability that the paper will go through the peer-review process.
      Best wishes,
      Anne

  8. Azade

    Dear Anne,

    Thank you for sharing your insights with us. I have revised my manuscript and want to re-submit it, but I am not sure if the cover letter should to written to editor-in-chief or handling editor. The decision about the paper was sent by editor-in-chief to me and in this letter he introduced the handling editor. The letter included the handling editor’s comments as well.

    Thank you for your advice in advance!
    Azade

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Azade,
      Thank you for your comment and question. Based on the details you’ve provided, I would recommend that you send your revisions and responses to both the editor-in-chief and the handling editor. It is important to provide direct responses to all comments made by each of them and by any any other reviewers. Both people are involved in reviewing your paper and both will want to know that their questions or concerns have been addressed.
      Best wishes with your paper!
      Anne
      p.s. You might also want to check out my blog post on responses to reviewers.

  9. Edgardo Comas

    Dear Dr. Anne Altor

    I am writing my first cover letter and this web site was very useful. I have learned a lot from your guide lines on the subject.

    Thank you very much in advance.
    Edgardo

  10. María Gabriela Pastor Jiménez

    Dear Dr Altor

    First of all, Happy New Year! May this 2017 be charged with great things for you.
    As well as many of the previous comments, I would like to thank you for your post, since I am writing my first cover letter and I found it really helpful.
    On the other hand I have a question regarding citations: In the statement, is it appropriate to cite articles from the same journal? I’m writing a methodology article and based my writing style in these.

    Best regards
    María Gabriela Pastor Jiménez

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear María,
      Happy New Year to you too! Thank you for your comment, and good luck with your cover letter and manuscript.
      You asked, “is it appropriate to cite articles from the same journal?” Yes it is. In general, it is a good idea to cite a variety of sources, but it is okay if some of your important sources occur in the same journal. Does this answer your question?
      Best,
      Anne

  11. Tesfaye Cholo

    Dear Dr. Anne Altor,

    Thank you very much for wonderful insight how to write submission letter for publication. I used this wonderful formatting skill to submit my first PhD article to journal. I benefited much from your contribution as junior researcher.

    Thank you again for your support again.

    Kind regards
    Tesfaye

  12. Tesfaye Cholo

    Dear Dr. Anne Altor,

    Thank you very much for wonderful insight how to write submission letter for publication. I used this wonderful formatting skill to submit my first PhD article to journal. I benefited much from your contribution as junior researcher.

    Thank you again for your support again.

    Kind regards
    Tesfaye

  13. Farshid Kompani

    Dear Dr. Anne Altor

    I would like to thank you a lot for this very informative and interesting guideline . In fact I made use of it to write a cover letter for my article and I made a summary of it in my notebook to be used in future.

    All the best
    Dr. kompani

  14. Li Mei

    Dear Dr. Anne Altor,

    Thank you very much for your guidelines on how to write a great cover letter. It is very helpful. I appreciate your endeavor to support the junior and young researchers.

    I am currently preparing a cover letter. I would like to use your guidelines and ask you simple questions. They are as follows:

    1. According to your template to construct a cover letter, it seems okay, e.g., “Dr Michael Blatt”. I wonder if “Dr. Michael Blatt” is not correct in a cover letter. I would like to know which is the precise form, “Dr Michael Blatt” or “Dr. Michael Blatt” in a cover letter.

    2. Similarly, as per your template to construct a cover letter, it seems okay, e.g., “Dear Dr Blatt:”. I wonder if “Dear Dr. Blatt,” is not appropriate in a cover letter. I would like to know which is the precise form, “Dear Dr Blatt:” or “Dear Dr. Blatt,” in a cover letter.

    Thank you for your assistance and patience.

    I look forward to your excellent answers to my questions.

    Best regards,
    Li Mei

    1. pseAdmin

      Dear Li Mei,
      Thank you for your comment and for your question about whether to use a period (full stop) after the abbreviation for Doctor. The answer depends on whether you are writing in American or UK (British) English. If you are writing in American English, you use a period: “Dr.” If you are writing in UK English, you do not use a period: “Dr”. In my opinion, while it is important that your manuscript be formatted in the correct language style, your cover letter can be in the style most natural to you (American or UK). However, if you want to be completely consistent, then you can prepare the cover letter in the style required by the journal.

      As to your question about whether to use the first name, it is fine to use it or to not use it, so either “Dr Michael Blatt” or “Dr Blatt” is ok. Use of the first name can help make sure the letter goes to the correct person in cases where there is more than one person with the same last name. However, that scenario is unlikely when you include the person’s title (e.g., Editor in Chief). I hope this helps!
      Best wishes,
      Anne

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