Having a good scientific idea and writing a good paper out of it are the most important steps in order to publish in high-ranking journals, but they are not the only steps needed. The other steps are writing a good cover letter (to convince the editor) and good answers to referee reports, if needed (and this is almost always the case, based on my personal and and colleague's experience). Cover letters and rebuttals are a sort of "grey literature", in the sense that are carefully written, but not published, but only read by a few people (editors and referees).

Therefore one can learn to write good papers by reading good papers, but one cannot learn writing good letters and rebuttals by reading them, since they are not published.

In the light of this, how one can learn to write successfull cover letters and rebuttals?

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    " but one cannot learn writing good letters and rebuttals by reading them, since they are not published." Not entirely true: Try asking people from your group/institute for the letters they sent... Jul 11, 2016 at 20:21
  • @FábioDias Well I don't think they will react well to such a question. Usually people don't want to show their failures and may be not willing to reveal their secret weapons :D
    – sintetico
    Jul 11, 2016 at 21:14
  • That is not my experience. Usually, when a student needs to write their first CL/response, the advisor sends one, as an example. This happened to literally everyone I know, both in France and in Brazil. In fact, currently, we are encouraging everyone in the group to share the submitted articles, reviews, etc etc... Chances are your advisor will not react badly to such request, it is kind of his/her job... Jul 11, 2016 at 21:26
  • You are luckier than me...also when I was a PhD student nobody let me have a look to their cover letter and responses.
    – sintetico
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:20

2 Answers 2

  • Your supervisor/PI/mentor should be an important source of information here. Not only will they have a lot of experience at the author end, they will also have reviewed lots of papers, and quite possibly acted as an editor. So they know what they would look for in a cover letter/rebuttal.

  • As Fabio Dias recommends in the comments, "Try asking people from your group/institute for the letters they sent".

  • Treat your cover letter/rebuttal as you would the main paper: send it to your co-authors, and if possible a trusted non-co-author, for comments and advice.

  • Wherever possible, try to get experience as a reviewer and (if at an appropriate stage in your career) an editor. This will help you to see things from different perspectives, and will also give you the chance to read both good and bad examples from other researchers. Even if you don't have the chance to do either of these things, try to put yourself in the editor/reviewer's position, play the devil's advocate, and think about what might persuade you if roles were reversed.

  • Be professional and respectful.
  • Try to see the viewpoint of the reviewers.
  • If there is disagreement, provide a counter argument with backing evidence.
  • Always try to do 'something' to meet reviewers halfway. What 'something' is could be the suggested changes or a tweak in the text. IMO, this shows you respect the reviewers, even if you think their comments are nonsensical.

EDIT: As long the important points are highlighted clearly, you'll be fine. The aim is to delineate reviewers' comments and yours. I for instance organize my letter into Reviewer-1, Reviewer-2, etc as sections, and then within each section, break up all questions into paragraphs, and use coloring to delineate comments and responses. I sometimes italicize or bold text to further emphasize certain points/arguments.

  • Side comment: And never send the same, unrevised, paper to somewhere else (or the same place next year). There is a significant chance the paper will end up in the hands of the same reviewers... Jul 11, 2016 at 20:22
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    These are useful tips indeed. But my question is more about "how to learn to write good cover letters/rebuttal". I am interested on what one can do to improve oneself. Usually we all learn by imitation (learning how to write papers by reading, learning a language by listening, etc.) but how one can learn to write cover letters/rebuttals if they are not public?
    – sintetico
    Jul 11, 2016 at 21:12
  • @sintetico See the additional text to my answer. Jul 11, 2016 at 23:00

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