A killer cover letter can get you a review ahead of a rejection. Yet, what a “killer” cover letter means exactly can vary greatly among journals and different article types. Journals seeking paper submissions, for example, might expect a page-long cover letter on a formal letterhead that introduces the authors by name, rank, and affiliation; states the title of the article; its core argument; and outlines its particular interest to the journal, including the unique contribution it makes to the field whether due to its unique methodology or theoretical approach. Others might expect no more than a brief, one to two sentence email introduction that declares the originality of the article and includes an assurance that it is not published or submitted elsewhere.
If you’re not sure what your target journal requires it pays to ask senior colleagues and check the journal submission guidelines. If doubts remain you can always directly email the editor or associate editor of the target journal.
General tips to keep in mind
1) Read and follow the journal submission guidelines to the letter
This helps to demonstrate your particular interest in the journal and dedication to the task.
2) Be clear and keep it brief
A good principle to keep in mind is that the shorter your letter, the more likely it is to be read. Brevity in this instance is power. At a minimum you need to identify the title of the article, state its originality, and ensure that it is not published or submitted elsewhere. Your next priority is to argue WHY your article is a good fit for this journal.
3) Be personable
You are building a relationship with this journal, so where possible address a specific editor by name. Be sure to identify yourself and all co-authors of this submission. Also, it is often important to demonstrate your knowledge of this journal by referring to recent published works. Explain how and why your article relates to these works due to shared themes, methodologies, or theoretical approach.
4) Promote the value of your research
Demonstrate your unique and original contribution to this journal. In two to three sentences emphasize no more than two of the following points:
• Your article presents exciting new information
• Your topic is a matter of pertinent interest at this present time
• It promotes previous research, review, and editorial discussions published in the journal
5) Address any potential ethical issues
If there are any potential conflicts of interest within your research, such as sources of research funding, it may be important to state these up front and address any concerns by explaining how they have been addressed within your research. Again, this helps you to build a relationship of trust with this journal – an important consideration for your future career.