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How to write a cover letter to journal when submitting a manuscript?

  1. In the letter, it is expected that I propose 5 referees. Is this the only reason to write a cover letter?
  2. Will the cover letter be sent to the referees or only to Journal's staff?
  3. I feel reluctant to praise my contribution in the cover letter. The article should defend it itself. Is the praising important part of the cover letter? Is it required?
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  1. It is also polite to write a cover letter, even if nobody asks for it. And the purpose is often to ease the process of finding the referees, so helping to do so by giving insights about the paper that cannot be write in the paper is a good thing.

  2. If you mention potential referees, I guess it will not be sent to the chosen referees. Otherwise (in my experience) it is.

  3. You don't have to praise your results in the cover letter. Just state shortly the results (say more than the abstract, less than the introduction). If you think that there are issues related to the paper, this is also the place to state them (conflict of interest, new way of considering something - which can hurt someone's feelings -, direct negative comment on related work, etc.). If you think that, because your paper is gap-bridging, you need reviewers from several fields, you should say it as well.

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  • 11
    Regarding the first point: If nobody asks for a cover letter and there are forms in the journal’s submission system for everything, I would expect that many editors consider cover letters filled with irrelevant or redundant information a waste of their time and thus not polite. Regarding the second point: In my field, a summary of the paper in the cover letter is uncommon (and also rather pointless, since that’s what the abstract is for). – Wrzlprmft Dec 28 '14 at 15:13
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If you are aiming for a high-impact general-interest journal, then the goal of the cover letter is to avoid editorial rejection.

When you are aiming at a broad journal that takes lots of submissions (e.g., PLOS ONE) or a field-specific journal that sends pretty much everything out for review, a bare-bones cover letter as described in some of the other answers is probably fine.

If you're aiming for something where there is strong editorial selection, however, it's a different matter. A good indicator you are dealing with such a journal is if they make a point of inviting pre-submission inquiries (though some don't). In this case, most papers are never sent out for review: they are rejected by an editor as "not being of sufficiently broad interest" or "not likely to have sufficient significance" or something of the sort. In this case, the cover letter is a big part of the decision, because the cover letter is the first impression you will make on the editor, and is where you can explain your work and its significance more informally.

The form that I have seen used for cover letters of this type is approximately as follows:

  1. Short summary of the paper and its key results
  2. Explanation of the significance of the paper
  3. Explanation of the community who will find the paper interesting (which should be one of the key communities served by the journal)
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  • Transferred from this question, after clarification that "general interest" for mathematics != multidisciplinary journal. – jakebeal May 23 '15 at 5:19
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  1. Sometimes it could be. Sometimes one has to explain some prior publications and how they relate to the current manuscript.

  2. Usually, the cover letter is not sent to reviewers.

  3. Brief statement should be fine. It is not required.

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This depends on the journal. In one journal i am involved with a cover letter is actually required and needs to contain a declaration that the manuscript is not under submission elsewhere and won't be sent elsewhere before the journal made a decision. And reviewers always get the cover letter.

From a reviewer perspective i think a summary of the paper contributions is not needed, as i am going to read about them anyway. If the paper is based on a conference contribution (and in my field, CS, this happens a lot) then a description of the differences is very useful, so i do not have to spend additional time reading the conference paper.

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  1. Nowadays when referees interact with the journal on-line, the cover letter (if any) will be available to them. (Of course you send it electronically to the journal, right?)

  2. No praising.

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