The manuscript cover letter

May 10, 2012

There are, to my thinking, two versions of the cover letter you send with a manuscript.

1)  Short ‘n Sweet: Dear Editor, this is  about blah, de and blah which is significant because zippede. I think this will interest your readers, Sincerely, R. E. Squirrel


2) The Fluff Job. This is the one that goes on for two pages about how awesome the paper is and why it totally is new and solves cold fusion and shit like that.


I have always been a Short and Sweet kind of guy.


It has only recently come to my attention that people go ON with their cover letters.




Do any of y’all with Associate Editor or EIC type experience read those long winded letters or do you just go straight to the Abstract?



No Responses Yet to “The manuscript cover letter”

  1. Dr. Zeek Says:

    I am a short and sweet type of gal. Something along the lines of:

    Hey there-
    Please consider my paper “Blah-blah” for publication in Awesome journal.
    A quick two sentence summary of the paper.
    Everyone named on the paper agrees with its submission
    Thanks for your time,
    Peace out

    My boss is the king of brevity, so it may have just rubbed off on me. That being said, I don’t understand rambling in your cover letter. You would think that the paper, in theory, stands on its own. I’m not a huge fan of seemingly ego stroking fluff.


  2. Namnezia Says:

    Although I was surprised to find that a journal we recently submitted to actually had a set of essay questions that you were supposed to answer in your cover letter. It took a long time to write.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    “essay questions”? Ffs!


  4. juniorprof Says:

    i am a short and sweet type of guy too, but my papers never get sent for review at the big hitters so apparently I am either doing it wrong or not deemed to be worthy. Essay questions? seriously? what journal was that?


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    I have had at least 3 go out for review in the past couple of years at places where it was a bit surprising. It was not a function of cover letter length, believe me.


  6. John Bruno Says:

    Definitely short and sweet. I rarely even read them (as an editor at Ecology). In fact, unless it is mandatory, I don’t even submit them with my manuscripts anymore.


  7. doctorzen Says:

    I’m for doing away with cover letters entirely now that we have electronic submission systems. Everything the editor wants should just filled in as part of the submission process.

    “Is that manuscript in review or already published elsewhere?” followed by a Yes / No checkbox.

    “List names and emails of people as potential reviewers” followed by a form.

    “List names and emails of people of people you do not want as reviewers” followed by a form.

    Cover letters were useful for such statements in the days of paper. Now, I can’t see any reason for them except for people to make arguments that should be in the paper itself.


  8. BugDoc Says:

    I also do short and sweet for our own submissions, but as an AE I do actually read the whole cover letter even if it is pretty long. It seems like you should be able to make a good case for how awesome your paper is in one page….


  9. anon Says:

    The cover letter equates to what you would wear to give a job interview. You should dress professionally without silly and distracting embellishments. Likewise, you should also appear somewhat fashion conscious in the sense that you are not wearing a 1970’s style polyester jumpsuit. I use Univ. letterhead, and write the short-sweet type thing, but with enough information to sell the subject of the manuscript. This is has generally been successful in at least getting the manuscript sent for review at high-end journals.


  10. BLG Says:

    Mine are usually around one page. Title, key results in the manuscript that make it of interest to journal readers, potential reviewers, reviewers I would like to exclude, and that the manuscript is not submitted elsewhere. Even in the age of electronic submissions, it is sometimes easier to have all the information in one cover letter.


  11. Pinko Punko Says:

    Short and sweet for an academic editor. Fluff job for professional Cell-sevier press editors, where they might need some Clif Notes if it isn’t right in their wheelhouse, or they might be one day out of their post-doc.


  12. Pinko Punko Says:

    But not longer than 1.3 pages at the most.


  13. Dave Says:

    I’m more interested in hearing about the essay questions?


  14. Namnezia Says:

    I’m with Pinko, for fancy journos definitely you need to explain more to the editor and make a case that they should go and read your abstract.

    The journal with the essay questions was PLoS biology:

    Cover Letter

    Please include a cover letter of no more than 600 words that provides brief answers to the following questions:

    What is the scientific question you are addressing?
    What is the key finding that answers this question?
    What is the nature of the evidence you provide in support of your conclusion?
    What are the three most recently published papers that are relevant to this question?
    What significance do your results have for the field?
    What significance do your results have for the broader community (of biologists and/or the public)?
    What other novel findings do you present?
    Is there additional information that we should take into account?


  15. As a PLoS One AE, I basically mine the letter for potential reviewers (as well as names of competitors the authors don’t want as reviewers) — I don’t always follow the advice (especially when there’s an obvious conflict of interest such as the suggested reviewer being at the the same institution or a recent collaborator of the authors, or conversely if the competitor is at the only other lab writing similar papers), but especially around this time of year with many proposal deadlines it’s often hard to get reviewers, so any help the authors can provide is appreciated.

    Also, PLoS One has a couple of levels of editors, and the first hold up that happens when a paper gets submitted is for the top-level editors to decide which AEs to give it to. Every week, there are a dozen or so manuscripts where there isn’t an obvious match and AEs are asked if any of them are within their sphere of expertise. If you take a look at the list of PLoS ONE AEs and suggest a couple of reasonable choices, the chances that your manuscript will get dealt with promptly goes way up.


  16. qaz Says:

    I think “sales job” is a better description of these letters than “fluff”.

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but my impression has been that cover letters are important for those GlamourMag journals where there are professional editors who guard the review process but are not deep into a given field. I use the cover letter to explain why the paper is important (often in terms I would never use to others in my field – as in “we’re the first evah to…”) . I don’t know whether they matter or not, but my impression has been that my papers are more likely to go to review when we do a good job on the cover letter for these journals.

    For journals where the editor is a true expert in the field or where all papers are sent out for review, I don’t think cover letters matter as much. That being said, I changed how I write cover letters when an editor for the Journal of Neurophysiology (who was/is one of those people who have expertise in dozens of fields — certainly in any field I would work in) told me that they liked cover letters that explained why a paper was important because it made their job easier.


  17. Drugmonkey Says:

    I am planning to experiment with the fluff version in te future qaz….


  18. proflikesubstance Says:

    Short and sweet, but will go up to a page for a high end journal. Anything over a page is tl/dr for me as an AE.


  19. As an AE for Middling Journal, all I need to see is a short and sweet cover letter … just enough to cover the legal bases of not being under consideration or published elsewhere and that all of the authors consented to the submission. Handled one recently that had copied the introduction verbatim into the letter. Didn’t bother to read it. My attention span is limited to the 250 word abstract.


  20. Isis the Scientist Says:

    A PAGE??? A FULL PAGE? Like of actual text, or is most of that your signature and letterhead?


  21. Pinko Punko Says:

    Letterhead, signature, addresses, line breaks, generous white space margins, dates. There isn’t a lot of room in a letterhead “page”, but I think if you aren’t a name that a junior league glamour mag editor will know, you have to get them to think about reading it. You have to make the case. Perhaps you were lucky enough to present at a nice little meeting attended by the junior ed, so you basically got to show them the work and then sell it to them over coffee or drinks. This is what the letter does for you if you need it.


  22. proflikesubstance Says:

    A page with all the bells and whistles that come with an “official” memo. And I only do this when there is a significant chance of desk reject.


  23. Grumble Says:

    The whole point of a cover letter is to get the editor to send the paper out for review.

    So, for fancy journals with professional editors of the variety that is generally not likely to be able to distinguish ass from elbow, I give ’em a whole page of sales pitch. (These journals are the most likely to return the paper without review, so salesmanship is important.)

    For society-level journals where the editor is an expert who will know why the paper is important just from reading the abstract, maybe half a page at most.

    For dump journals of the kind that never say no even to the most egregious shit… well, I don’t publish in them, but if I did I wouldn’t write a letter at all.


  24. drugmonkey Says:

    the kind that never say no even to the most egregious shit

    that’s not what I mean when I refer to dump journals. there are different ranks of society journals….


  25. Odyssey Says:

    As an AE at a middling journal I never read cover letters. I read the manuscript. If it doesn’t sell itself, what difference could the cover letter make? IMO cover letters are a waste of everyones time. Of course not all AE types bother to actually read the manuscript…


  26. Pinko Punko Says:

    Odyssey- that is because you read the manuscript! There are professional eds that I think do not read the manuscript unless their boat is already sufficiently floated, so cover letter=rising tide.


  27. arrzey Says:

    I skip the cover letter. Unless its a major suck up job, and then I send it to a hard reviewer.


  28. Virgilstar Says:

    The one exception to the short/sweet version (IMHO) is responding to reviewers on a second round submisison. In that case, I almost always find that detailed is best. I was once middle author on a collaborator’s paper in a Nature family journal, and the response to reviewers ran to 25 pages, including several places where the data and the segments of text were reproduced in the letter. It worked. I guess the reviewers were pleased at having it spelled out to them and saving them from having to actually go to the paper and find the modifications.


  29. […] The manuscript cover letter | DrugMonkey The cover letter equates to what you would wear to give a job interview. You should dress professionally without silly and distracting embellishments. Likewise, you should also appear somewhat fashion conscious in the … .. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: