How do you write a cover letter?

Gepubliceerd op 16 februari 2024 om 12:00

Most academic journals ask you to upload a cover letter when you submit your paper. A cover letter is a short letter describing your research to the editor of the journal. Here are our tips for writing a cover letter.

Tip 1. Put your research on display

After submission, your article will first reach the desk of the editor of the journal. She/he will decide whether your article is interesting (enough) for the journal. If it is, then the editor sends your article to external reviewers for the review process. An editor generally makes this decision based on your cover letter and the abstract of your research. Therefore, it is important to devote time and attention to writing a good cover letter, to make it clear what makes your research unique and why your article should be placed in this scientific journal.

Tip 2. Connect with the journal's scope

Every journal has its own area of interest, or mission, or vision, or point of view: its scope. When you were choosing this journal, you have obviously already looked at that. Now the trick is to connect this scope to your article. Why does your article fit this journal’s readership just right? If, for example, you have done research on a psychological intervention and the journal is also about psychological treatment, the link with the scope is of course easily found. But sometimes it takes a bit more creativity to connect your article to the scope the journal. A tip might be to see if there have been previous (somewhat similar) publications in this journal to which you can refer.

Tip 3. Emphasize your message

Highlight the main results of your research and any (clinical) implications. What you should definitely NOT do is copy and paste your abstract, with statistics and p-values and everything. Instead, provide a clear, overarching description of your main findings and conclusions.

Tip 4. Practical tips

Journals sometimes specify what they absolutely want to read in a cover letter. For example, they want you to indicate that the research is original, that all authors agree with the content, and that the article was not submitted to another journal for review at the same time. These are statements you can pretty much include at the end of your cover letter by default. Also, keep it short: a cover letter is preferably one page and never more than two pages. Make your point short and powerful, and do not write a long-winded argument.

Tip 5. Address the editor

To make your cover letter a little more personal, address it with the correct name and academic title(s) to the editor(s). Sometimes you have multiple editors for each journal, one person being the editor-in-chief for the United States and surrounding countries and the other being the editor-in-chief for Europe, for example. In that case, take the European editor if you submit as a PhD student at a Dutch university. It is also possible that there are multiple editors, each with a different sub-expertise. Address your cover letter to the editor whose expertise most closely matches your paper. And should you get a rejection and submit your paper elsewhere: please do not forget to change the name of the journal, the editor and the scope part in the letter. Otherwise, a new rejection is guaranteed!

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