When you’re submitting a manuscript to a journal for consideration, do you include a separate cover letter to the Editor? Many people do, but some don’t.

I always include a cover letter. It’s an opportunity to make a good first impression and tell the Editor a bit about your study. Hopefully I provide enough information, and in an interesting way, to encourage him or her to send my paper out for review, rather than give it a quick “desk rejection.”

When composing the cover letter, make sure you address it to the Editor or Editor-in-Chief – use the correct title as it is presented on the journal’s website. The website usually has a separate page listing the Editorial Board, where you’ll find the person’s full name, degrees, title, and mailing address. Use the journal’s mailing address, if it’s available. Otherwise, use the institutional address provided for that person, but make sure you include their title as Editor and the journal’s name, so that they know the letter is reaching out to them in that capacity:

            John Smith, MD, FRCSC, Editor-in-Chief
          Journal of Canadian Medicine
            University of Toronto

            2 Bloor Street West
            Toronto, ON, Canada  M5M 3R8

My opening sentence of the letter is fairly standard. It specifies the manuscript is original (new), includes the title of the manuscript, specifies the type of submission (original article, review paper, invited paper, short report, case study), and names the journal:

            Dear Dr. Smith:

            Please find enclosed an original manuscript entitled “Bacteria: The Source of All Illness”
            for consideration as an Original Article in the Journal of Canadian Medicine.

The next two paragraphs of the letter are devoted to briefly describing the study. This information is usually modified from the Abstract, the purpose statement of the Introduction, and the Discussion (usually the first paragraph and the conclusion paragraph). The first paragraph sets up the purpose and parameters (essential methodology) of the study. Be brief – a maximum of two sentences. The second paragraph provides the main result(s), in relatively plain language, and gives context as to the clinical significance of the outcome and/or why this study’s results are important for the journal’s target audience.

Alternatively, if the results are simple and straightforward, I might include them in the first paragraph about the manuscript. Then I devote the second paragraph to what makes this study special and important, the new information it provides, and the (clinical) importance of this information to the journal’s readers.

The next paragraph(s) provide the standard language required by the journal regarding the paper being an original submission, not under consideration elsewhere, that all authors have contributed to the study and writing and/or editing of the manuscript, provide the Ethics Review Committee approval number, the clinical trial registry number, and whatever other information the journal may require. Make sure you’ve read the Author Instructions carefully. Each journal has different requirements for the information to be included and the specific language that must be used. If you omit information the journal requires from the cover letter, you potentially risk an immediate rejection, without consideration.   

The final paragraph of the cover letter is usually a standard, polite, optimistic, single sentence:

            We thank you for your consideration of this manuscript and look forward to receiving
            your response.

The cover letter should be signed by the submitting (corresponding) author. Include the full name, with degrees, the appropriate affiliations, and the full mailing address. I don’t usually bother to add an email address or phone number here, as that information is already provided in the system during the online submission process.

Some online submission programs have a specific place or point in the process prompting you to submit the cover letter. If they do, use that. If they don’t, there’s usually an opportunity to submit comments to the Editor – copy and paste the full text from the cover letter into that space, or attach the document there. Otherwise, you can usually upload the cover letter as “Supplementary Material.”


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