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5 Tips for Making the Most of Your Journal Submission Cover Letter

Whether you plan to publish your research in a top-tier journal or in a lesser known publication, writing an impactful cover letter is a must. Editors use these letters to sift through the mounds of manuscripts they receive on a weekly basis and will judge the merits of your abilities as a researcher and writer based on them. In short—a cover letter is your opportunity to make the editor want to read more.

In this article, I'm going to cover five useful tips for making the most of the opportunity to catch an editor's attention with a well-written cover letter.

A well-written cover letter is the best way to get an editor's attention if you want to publish your research in an academic journal
A well-written cover letter is the best way to get an editor's attention if you want to publish your research in an academic journal. Photo by Andisheh A on Unsplash.

Do your research

Academic and peer-reviewed journals vary in their reach and audience. Some might publish a broad scope of topics but most are focused on certain fields of study, which means that editors know exactly what will fit in their publication and what won't. Sending your research to a journal without knowing their audience is a waste of time and effort, particularly if your research is outside of the journal's scope.

Research of the publication's goals and aims, as well as prior studies they have published, will go a long way in ensuring that you don't waste your time (or the editor's). Taking the time to do some background research will help you plan which journal you should send your manuscript to and which journal will be most likely to publish it.

In the same sense, you should find out all you can about the person who will be reading your cover letter and making a decision on whether to include it in the publication. For example, you should address the editor by name in the salutation. If you don't know the editor's name, find a recent copy of the publication or go online to look it up. It also never hurts to call the journal and ask who the editor is and make sure you have the name spelled correctly. Addressing the editor as "Dear Madam" or "Dear Sir," or addressing your letter to a prior editor of the publication shows that haven't done the legwork needed to find the best fit for your research.

After you've introduced the title of your paper, the author(s), and what type of research it is (a case study, review, etc.), it will be important to focus on why you think your work is a good fit for the publication. If the journal has published research related to the topic you've chosen, point that out by writing the title(s) and the date published. If they have published a study that calls for additional research on a certain topic and your study fulfills that aim, point that out as well. If your study fills a gap in the literature, let the editor know.

Publications often have specific requests of information to be included with a manuscript or in your cover letter. Ultimately, editors of academic journals want to know that your manuscript will be worth their time if they decide to read it. They need to look at your cover letter and recognize that you are professional, a good writer, a solid researcher, and able to follow directions. If you fail to include the specific details they've requested, your credibility as a researcher could be damaged before they've even looked at your research. It doesn't matter how great your research is—it might not make it past the gatekeepers of academic journals if your cover letter is a mess.

Include all relevant information

While different publications might have specific requests for information that needs to be included in a submission, there are certain things that are standard requirements for a cover letter written to an academic journal editor. These are:

  • The title of your manuscript
  • The author(s) of your manuscript
  • A statement noting that your manuscript has not been previously published and you haven't sent it to any other editors for consideration
  • The background of your study
  • The research question you sought to answer in your study
  • The methodology you used in your research
  • The significance of your research and why it will be useful information to the journal's audience
  • The name of the journal and why you chose this particular one to submit your work to

If you fail to include the last detail, you run the risk of making your cover letter sound more like a form document that could be sent to any journal. Editors want to know that you've put in the time to find the best publication in which to publish your study. It gives them confidence that your research will be solid and interaction with you, as a writer, will be a smooth process.

Keep it brief, professional and error free

Your journal submission cover letter is not the place to go into detail about your academic experience and publishing credits. It's also not the place to name drop, humor the editor, or present an abstract of your research. If the editor is interested in reading more about your research, he or she will have the manuscript to do so. Name dropping will make you seem unprofessional and unable to get your work published on its own merits.

Additionally, your manuscript should be free of grammar errors or spelling mistakes. Even the slightest error could mean losing credibility with the editor, because they know if you've carelessly put together a cover letter—the one document that should sell your manuscript—you've likely don't the same with your paper. And no journal editor wants to make extensive corrections to an author's writing. It only makes their job harder and is an unattractive prospect.

Carefully reviewing your cover letter for errors could make the difference between being published or passed over
Carefully reviewing your cover letter for errors could make the difference between being published or passed over. Photo by Bruce Mars from Pexels.

Consider following a template

A cover letter for submitting your manuscript to academic journals should be in business letter format, single-spaced, with blank lines between paragraphs. Don't indent the beginning of each paragraph and don't use a font that is difficult to read. Letterhead may be used and a date should be included, along with the standard return address and recipient's address.

Below is a template to work around to create your journal submission letter. Keep in mind that journals have different requirements and will typically list these submission guidelines on their website. For example, some journals want you to include potential reviewers for your manuscript, along with their contact information. This template should be adapted to include everything they request, as well as specific, brief information about your research and why it's important for it to be made available to their readers.

Your name
Your street address
City, State zip code
Your phone number
Your email address


The editor's name
The journal's name
The journal's street address
City, State zip code

Dear Ms/Mr. [editor's last name],

Thank you for the opportunity to submit my original research article entitled [name of article] for your consideration for publication in [name of journal]. In focusing on [the research question of your study], this work builds on prior studies on [background information related to your research]. Through [briefly discuss your methodology], I believe it fills a gap in the literature by [summarize the significance of your research].

In the June 2018 issue of [the name of the journal], you published a study by [author's name] that called for additional research in [your area of expertise]. This manuscript answers that call by presenting various case studies related to [your area of study/research and additional details about your manuscript].

[Journal name] seeks to [discuss the scope or vision of the journal] and this research fulfills that aim. It has not been published and is not under consideration elsewhere because I believe your readers are the best audience for it. [Briefly explain why their readers would benefit from reading your work.]

Should you find my research appropriate for your publication, I would like to suggest the following reviewers:

[Names and contact information of reviewers]

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.


[Your name]

Get someone else to look over it

For researchers, publication in a top-tier journal is an achievement that can mean significant exposure and credibility. Many higher education professors must publish in a peer-reviewed journal in order to gain tenure or even keep their job. These reasons alone should suggest that a cover letter to an academic journal is one document that can make a lot of difference in your life, career, and future. It's not a task to take lightly and should be given the time and attention needed to get it perfect.

With this in mind, it is always a good idea to have someone else look over it—preferably a professional copyeditor who is familiar with what needs to go into the letter to make it shine. If you know others who have been successful in getting their research published, either in the journal to which you are applying or elsewhere, go to them for advice on your cover letter. They might have the exact suggestion you need to make sure the editor pays attention.

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