Find out how to write a letter to the editor (cover letter) for your research paper submission. Get to know the elements required and the pattern so you can develop yours on the go.
The cover letter contained in this post is written using the A-I-D-A principle. You’ll find within this post a plug-and-play plan that can be used to develop cover letters on the go.
The letter to the editor, also known as the cover letter, is an essential component of research paper submission.
Here we highlight the framework of a cover letter using a popular strategy for developing marketing copy, the AIDA principle.
By the end of this post, you will understand the elements of the cover letter. You should be able to draft yours on the go with the framework provided.
A template is attached that can be copied and downloaded for personal use.
The cover letter serves as a pitch of sorts.
It makes clear to the editor (the recipient of your submission) and the reviewers (subsequent evaluators of your study), the content of your research. A cover letter should highlight the reasons why your paper meets the consideration for publication in the journal of choice.
It should highlight the importance of your study and how it adds to the existing body of knowledge on the topic.
Here the cover letter aims to get the editor to consider the submission, enough to pass it on for peer review. In this case, we want the reader to take action, the endpoint of the AIDA principle.
The AIDA principle is based on marketing speak. It focuses on four elements, Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Failure to address these aspects in a write-up meant to elicit action affects engagement. In research, this may mean rejection, an event no researcher wants to experience.
In the body of your cover letter, you should try to provide questions to answers such as,
i. What makes your study important?
Ii. Why should the journal consider it?
iii. How does your study fit with the scope of the journal?
iv. Are there any potential conflicts of interest, have all authors approved?
v. Where previously published material is used, have you taken the needed measures for reproduction, attribution and copyright permissions? If so, indicate this in your cover letter.
You should arouse interest and draw on the novelty or association with existing studies. Also, you should address areas highlighted by the journal as required for submission.
Provide answers to the questions below,
I. How will your study contribute to the existing knowledge on the subject and the research community
The journal submission platforms vary across journals. Depending on the submission platform, you may be asked to suggest or decline to have some reviewers assess your work.
i. Suggest Reviewers: Suggest reviewers in your field/specialty who have expert knowledge and may be willing to review your submission. It is not a guarantee that you will be assigned your reviewer of choice. It’s likely that researchers who have an existing relationship may water down the standards for journal acceptance. This measure is to encourage familiarity with niche-specific experts and reduce bias for potential preferential treatment. Also, it serves to preserve research quality.
ii. Reject Reviewers: There are conflicting opinions on this issue. However, I and some researchers of repute I know leave this section blank. This element should be considered in the light of factors specific to the research and study collaborators.
You could refuse a reviewer if you foresee a potential for conflict of interest. For example, the reviewer may be working on a similar study or due to other logical reasons. Some journals request a mention of the suggested and rejected reviewers in the body of your cover letter.
Here, it helps to be familiar with the journal requirements. Where the journal provides a submission checklist, use it.
This refers to the action you want the editor/reviewer(s) to take.
You can say, ‘we believe our study meets your criteria for publication and look forward to the next phase of the publication process’.
Conclude with the contact details for the primary contact person (see an example further below).
From experience, this met with an automatic rejection, and I was asked to provide a cover letter. This case must have been platform-specific and based on the software structure.
Where required fields are missing, submissions may lead to an automatic rejection with an instant message telling the researcher to provide a cover letter.
It’s best to avoid this mistake and submit all the stated requirements.
Some platforms fail to save previously filled information (names of project collaborators, affiliations, text and figure files), so you may have to repeat the process all over again.
Some groups of researchers claim that editors do not read the cover letter, others say, its just one of those protocols that have to be met for paper submissions.
The focus should be to get your research published, which will mean meeting all the journal requirements.
There is no appropriate length or standard for cover letters. I have submitted cover letters with paragraphs ranging from three to six. The number of paragraphs depend on the results and its novelty.
Make sure to feature the main components requested, the length should not be a problem.
Note: It is essential to let the editor know if your study has been published elsewhere. This could be a conference, online or in the Arxiv database. This will help with indexing efforts and the peer review process. It may improve your chances of acceptance and hasten the review process, more so, if you received a favorable review before submitting to the present journal.
It is important to let the editor know if your study has been published elsewhere.
Another reason according to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICJME) is that “… submissions and previous reports… might be regarded as redundant publication of the same or very similar work. Any such work should be referred to specifically and referenced in the new paper. Copies of such material should be included with the submitted paper to help the editor address the situation.”
Some journals have precise requirements for cover letters written on their author submission page. Look through the author guidelines and make sure you adhere to them as much as possible.
Case (from Personal Experience): In one of case of a journal mismatch submission, the journal suggested that I submit to a sister journal. This may have been a subtle promotional attempt. However, the impact factor of the suggested journal was quite high and more specific to my research subject. I had positive feedback when I presented my cover letter with this recommendation.
This positive response may have encouraged the initial acceptance and expedited the peer-review timeline.
If the manuscript has been submitted previously to another journal, it is helpful to include the previous editors' and reviewers’ comments with the submitted manuscript, along with the authors’ responses to those comments... Doing so may expedite the review process and encourages transparency and sharing of expertise.
Cover Letter Template
Start: Salutation to the editor
To The Editor [Name] (Date)
Introduce your study: Please find attached the manuscript entitled “xxx”. We would like this manuscript to be considered for publication in your reputable journal.
Body: What makes your study important? Our study addresses the XX and XYZ in ABC…
Why should the journal consider your study? Is it novel or does it support or refute an existing study?
How does your study fit in with the scope of the journal? ABC Journal focuses on studies that… Our study fits this scope as it provides information or insights into the…
Are there any potential conflicts of interest, have all authors approved?
How will your study contribute to the existing knowledge and the research community? Insert positive contributions.
Conclude with what you suggest the editor should do. For example, we believe our study meets your criteria for publication and look forward to the next phase of the publication process.
End: Your Salutation
Your Contact Information (Name & Affiliation)
To save the Google Doc as a content template, Click the Google Doc link and select the File Icon in the menu.
Click the Google Doc link>> File icon>>
Navigate to the File icon, it drops down and then click on the Download As option.
Save the file in your format of choice: see the gif on the left hand side.
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