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What is this handout about?

This handout offers guidance on how to write a cover letter for submitting journal manuscripts for publication.

What is a journal publication letter?

A journal publication letter, also known as a journal article submission cover letter, is a cover letter written to a peer-reviewed journal to advocate for the publication of a manuscript. Not all journals ask for a publication letter. Some see publication letters as optional, but many peer-reviewed academic journals request or require them.

What do journal publication letters typically contain?

The most basic information included in a publication letter is contact information, the name of the author(s), the title of the manuscript, and either the assurance that the manuscript being submitted has not been submitted elsewhere or a statement regarding any places the manuscript may be available. Some journals may also expect you to briefly explain your argument, outline your methodology or theoretical commitments, discus permissions and funding, and explain how your manuscript fits into the overall aims of the journal. Journals may even request the names of two or three suggested reviewers for your manuscript. A journal may require all, none, or some of this additional information. The above list is not exhaustive, but it highlights the importance of knowing the journal’s conventions and expectations.

How should I prepare to write?

Just as with any other writing project, writing publication letters involves a process. Although you may finish in as little as a few hours or a day, you might take longer if you compose multiple drafts. This section is designed to help you think through the various steps of the writing process.

Research

Previously, we mentioned the importance of knowing the journal’s standards, but you may not find those expectations laid out clearly on the journal’s website. In fact, most journals assume that the scholars who submit a letter are well-versed in the journal’s mission. Below are some strategies for helping you determine the expectations for journal article publication letters.

Consider the standards in your field:

  • See if your field’s top journals require a letter.
  • Ask your advisor or mentor about their standard practices.
  • Ask someone who has published recently in your field’s top journals whether a letter is standard or not.
  • If submitting a letter is standard practice, ask others in your field for examples of their publication letters to see what information is typically included.

Research the specific journal:

  • If you aren’t already very familiar with the journal, read a handful of recent articles to get a sense of the type and content of manuscripts the journal publishes.
  • Explore the journal’s website to see what you can learn about the journal in general.
  • Read the journal’s mission statement.
  • Read carefully any information the journal provides for potential authors.
  • If you still have questions, consider contacting one of the journal’s editors.

After completing your research, you should have a good sense of the journal’s audience and the sort of articles that appear in the journal.

Brainstorm

Once you know the expectations for publication letters in your field and in a specific journal, revisit the reasons your manuscript is a good fit for the journal. Remember the journal has no obligation to publish your manuscript. Instead, you advocate for your scholarship and communicate why your manuscript is a good fit. Below are some questions to consider.

Consider how your manuscript fits into the publication:

  • How does it use a specific methodology or framework important to the journal?
  • How does it focus on themes that have been popular in recent issues?
  • How does it advance a new perspective on topics typically seen in the journal?
  • Does it fit with any proposed themed issues?

Consider the audience for your manuscript:

  • How does your subject or your approach to it intersect with the interests of the journal’s readers?
  • How does your manuscript appeal to readers outside your subfield?
  • Could your manuscript reach a broader audience that could expand the journal’s readership? If so, how?

Consider how your manuscript engages with the field at large:

  • How is it advancing new perspectives, approaches, or topics?
  • How is it critiquing previous or current scholarship?
  • How is it anticipating new directions in the field?
  • How is it using a common approach in a new way?

All these questions encourage you to consider how your manuscript contributes to the field in a way that is valuable enough for a journal to publish it. Make no mistake, the cover letter is an argument for why your manuscript should be published.

Writing a draft

This section addresses two aspects of composing a cover letter draft. The first aspect is the form, and the second is the content. Think about both of these aspects when composing your draft.

Consider the form

The structure of a document can be defined as the different sections of the document and the order in which they appear. There should be an addressee and addresser, as well as the proper contact information. If possible, it should be on departmental letterhead. The letter may be as short as three sentences or as long as multiple paragraphs. But unless the writer is a senior scholar, even a longer letter should be no more than one page. Some standard features you might consider:

Addressee. If you choose or are required to write a cover letter, follow the standard format for letters in the country in which the publication is based.

  • It is usually addressed to the editor unless otherwise specified.
  • If you cannot find the name of the editor, it is permissible to address it to the Editor-in-Chief or Managing Editor.
  • The address should be the journal’s, not the editor’s personal address or institutional address.

Font. While this category may seem trivial, font choice communicates a lot to readers.

  • The goal for a letter is readability, so avoid fonts and styles that are difficult to read.
  • Standard fonts include Arial or Times New Roman, usually in size 12.

Paragraphs. Again, the formatting of paragraphs aids in the readability of a letter, and an unusual paragraph format may appear unprofessional to some readers.

  • Make sure that paragraphs are not indented.
  • Single-space the text and justify it to the left.
  • Separate paragraphs with one line of space.

Closing. Letter closings solidify your presentation as a professional. Mtaintain the same formality as the rest of the letter.

  • Close with “sincerely,” “best regards,” or something comparably formal.
  • Type your name and provide your signature.
  • Include your contact information near the end.
  • For a dual-authored manuscript, include the contact information for both authors.
  • If the manuscript was composed by more than two authors, include only one additional author’s contact information with yours.

Consider the content

Remember that a cover letter, especially a longer one, is essentially a professional pitch for your manuscript. You ultimately need to communicate why your manuscript would be a good fit for a particular journal. Journals asking for longer cover letters want to know whether you are familiar with their audience and the journal’s mission statement. Below are some elements that you should consider when composing your letter:

Summarize the major arguments/findings of the manuscript. Make sure that you clearly explain what you discovered from your research. Connect these findings to the journal’s aims and scope. Some questions you might consider:

  • Did you make new connections?
  • Did you confirm previous findings?
  • Did you discover new implications?

Discuss your methodology. Clarify the type of methods you used in your research. Ask yourself:

  • Did you undertake a case study? A longitudinal study? A cross-sectional study?
  • Is the study qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods?
  • Did you use or adapt a specific model or framework?
  • Did you approach the topic using a new theoretical lens?
  • Did you integrate multiple theories or theoretical frameworks?
  • Did you apply a theory or method not frequently used in your subfield?
  • Did you approach a theory or method in a new way?

Consider the aim of the journal. Every journal has a purpose, and most journals have a statement about the type of scholarship they feature. You might ask:

  • What is the aim and scope of the journal?
  • How does it present itself to the field?
  • How does your manuscript fit with recent publications in the journal?

Consider the readership. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Who is the audience for the journal, and how will your manuscript appeal to them?
  • Which institutions subscribe to this journal?
  • How does your manuscript appeal to readers outside your subdiscipline?
  • How does your manuscript appeal to people outside your discipline?
  • How does it appeal to non-academic readers or professionals?

Consider the journal’s future trajectory. Research journals strive to remain relevant. In order to do so, journals often change to reflect trends in the field. Ask yourself:

  • Are they attempting to expand their readership?
  • Are they trying to integrate interdisciplinary approaches?
  • Are they incorporating more theoretical questions or newer methodologies?
  • Are they willing to critique the field?
  • Would your manuscript work as a part of a special issue?

Provide context for the research. If you are writing a longer letter, explain how your research fits in both with the research in your field at large and in your subfield. Ask yourself:

  • How does your work contribute to your field?
  • How does it engage with current scholarship in your field or subfield?
  • Does your scholarship address an oversight in the field? If so, how?
  • Do you innovate in terms of the subject(s); the methodology; or the integration of fields?
  • Do you address a gap in current research?

Additional considerations. Check to determine whether the journal requires any additional information. Some common expectations include:

  • Comment on the type of article submitted (e.g., research article, review, case report)
  • Assurances that all authors agree with the content of the manuscript
  • Assurance that the corresponding author will take responsibility for informing co-authors of editorial decisions, reviews received, and any changes or revisions made
  • Information about any closely related manuscripts that have been submitted for simultaneous consideration to the same or another journal
  • Statements about conflicts of interest or activities that might be seen as influencing the research
  • Statements regarding ethical practice
  • A copy of permissions to reproduce copyrighted material or a notice that permissions are pending (if applicable)
  • Names of specific reviewers from the journal who may be a good fit to read your manuscript

Possible pitfalls

Below are several other elements to keep in mind as you write your publication letter:

  • Avoid using too much jargon or too many acronyms.
  • Avoid over-embellishing your findings or exaggerating their significance.
  • Avoid name dropping.
  • Keep it simple and straightforward. Do not write a novel.
  • Keep it professional. Avoid humor.
  • Don’t copy text word-for-word from your manuscript.

Two templates

Below are two cover letter templates to help you visualize how form and content combine to make a strong publication letter. The templates offer guidelines for each section, but they can be modified based on the standards of your field. Use them to help you think through the elements that are most important to include in your letter.

Possible sections in a short publication letter:

Journal Editor’s First and Last Name, Graduate Degree (if any)
Title (Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, or Co-Editors-in-Chief)
Journal Name
Journal Address
Submission Date: Month Day, Year

Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. Editor’s last name or Managing Editor or Editor-in-Chief:

Paragraph 1 [1-2 Sentences]: Introduce the manuscript title under submission with a brief summary of the manuscript’s major point or findings and how they relate to the journal’s aims and scope.

Paragraph 2 [1-3 Sentences]: A statement that the manuscript has neither been previously published nor is under consideration by any other journal. If there are multiple authors, a statement that they have all approved the content of the paper. Occasionally, you might note if you have publicly presented the research elsewhere.

Paragraph 3 [1-2 Sentences]: A thank you for the editor’s time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Your Name
Corresponding Author
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
Institution Address
Email address
Telephone with country code
Fax, if available with country code
Additional Contact, if the corresponding author is not available for a multi-authored work
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
Institution Address
Email address
Telephone with country code
Fax, if available with country code

Possible sections in a long publication letter:

Journal Editor’s First and Last Name, Graduate Degree
Title: Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor, or Co-Editors-in-Chief
Journal Name
Journal Address
Submission Date: Month Day, Year

Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. Editor’s last name or Managing Editor or Editor-in-Chief:

Paragraph 1 [1-2 Sentences]: Introduce the manuscript title under submission with a brief summary of the manuscript’s major point or findings.

Paragraph 2 [ 2-3 Sentences]: Explain how the manuscript relates to recent publications in the journal.

Paragraph 3 [2-5 Sentences]:  Provide context for the research. Explain how the research relates to the journal’s aim and scope. Describe how the manuscript/research appeals to the journal’s audience.

Paragraph 4 [1-3 Sentences]: A statement that the manuscript has not been previously published nor is under consideration by any other journal. If there are multiple authors, a statement that they have all approved the content of the paper. Occasionally, you might include if you have publicly presented the research elsewhere.

Paragraph 5 [1-2 Sentences]: A selection of reviewers, if requested.

Paragraph 6 [1-2 Sentences]: A thank you for the editor’s time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name
Corresponding Author
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
Institution Address
Email address
Telephone with country code
Fax, if available with country code
Additional Contact, if the corresponding author is not available and a multi-authored work
Institution Title
Institution/Affiliation Name
Institution Address
Email address
Telephone with country code
Fax, if available with country code

Revise

Remember, your first draft does not have to be your last. Make sure to get feedback from different readers, especially if this is one of your first publications. It is not uncommon to go through several stages of revisions. Check out the Writing Center’s handout on editing and proofreading and video on proofreading to help with this last stage of writing.

Works consulted

We consulted the following works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find the latest publications on this topic. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial. We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

American Psychological Association. Cover Letters. Retrieved from https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/research-publication/cover-letters

Belcher, Wendy Laura. Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage), 272–5.

BioScience Writers. 29 September 2012. “Writing Cover Letters for Scientific Manuscripts.” Retrieved from https://biosciencewriters.com/Writing-Cover-Letters-for-Scientific-Manuscripts.aspx

Jones, Karen. “Writing effective cover letters for journal submissions: Tips and a Word template.” 2016. Retrieved from https://thinkscience.co.jp/en/articles/writing-journal-cover-letters.html

Kelsky, Karen. “How To Write a Journal Article Submission Cover Letter.” 26 April 2013. Retrieved from https://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/26/how-to-write-a-journal-article-submission-cover-letter/

Kelsky, Karen. “Of Cover Letters and Magic (A Follow-up Post)” 29 April 2013. Retrieved from http://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/29/of-cover-letters-and-magic-a-followup-post/

Mudrak, Ben. 2015. “Writing a Cover Letter.” Retrieved from https://www.aje.com/dist/docs/Writing-a-cover-letter-AJE-2015.pdf

Wordvice US. 2012. Retrieved from https://wordvice.com/journal-submission-cover-letter/


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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