By In Academia, The Profession Comments (5)

Do cover letters for journal submissions make any difference?

I'm curious to know whether cover letters that accompany journal submissions make any difference — whether editors read them, whether the letters influence publication decisions, etc. I've always treated this as pro forma: "Dear Editors, Please consider this manuscript for a future issue ofthe journal," etc. But I've had scientists tell me that significant effort goes into crafting their cover letters because the significance of the work may not be obvious. Is that so in philosophy — that explaining the significance of a submission will help its publication chances?

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5 Responses to Do cover letters for journal submissions make any difference?

  1. David Sobel says:

    I don’t think I have ever sent a cover letter. The response to an R and R addressed to the editor you are dealing with, I am assuming, is something else. It, I think, can be quite important. More generally, I don’t get why one would reserve for the cover letter info about why the research is important. Why would one not put that in the article?

  2. David Faraci says:

    I’ve been curious about this for a while, too. I have a friend who works for an economics journal, and he has encouraged me to write cover letters. His suggestion was less about explaining the value of the content and more about things like mentioning that a paper had been accepted to prestigious conferences or won awards. He claims that this happens to them all the time, and can make a difference. I’ve never done it; it seemed sort of gauche. But I’ve wondered if I should.

  3. Michael Cholbi says:

    Davids – Thank for your comments. I guess I’m particularly interested in whether cover letters matter at journals where there are a lot of desk rejections (or places like Ethics, where manuscripts must be vetted by an associate editor). At those stages, I gather that one question is just how important or noteworthy the manuscript is — does the cover letter shape judgments on that score?

  4. James Dreier says:

    At Ethics, the handling associate editor would not see your cover letter. When you send a cover for a Revise and Resubmit, then we do see that, but any original cover doesn’t even show up in the Editorial Manager.
    It’s possible that Henry (executive editor) sees a cover letter, but I suspect not.

  5. There’s often a stage for many journals at which editors make a very rough cut, before the finer grained filter of subject sub-editors and referees. I can imagine that one could (very briefly) say something that helps an editor think of the general subject matter as a good fit for that journal. I’ve often (OK, often for someone with my miserly rate of publication) sent papers to journals that published important papers on the topic I’m writing about and noted in the cover-letter that that is why I was sending the paper there. The sample size is too small to conclude anything significant, but I don’t have evidence that this strategy is fruitless.