Friday, 2 September 2016

Scientific Writing - How to Write the Cover Letter of a Scientific Research Paper

To publish a scientific paper, you need to have interesting new results to write about and you need to draft a high quality manuscript. But this is not enough. You also have to write a compelling cover letter for the editor of the journal where you will send your manuscript for publication.
The cover letter is a bit like an introduction to the research paper. It gives a brief overview of what is described in the article. Since it is the first document that the editor will read upon submission, it is really important and you should definitely take time to write a quality letter. Then, based on the letter and the abstract of the manuscript, the editor will decide if the article is worth sending to peers for scientific reviewing. Be careful, the cover letter is not an abstract. It should sum up some key points of the article, but its goal is totally different. In the abstract, you will focus on describing point by point what has been done. However, in the cover letter, you will present arguments to why your article is worth publishing. In some way, the letter will give a first impression to the editor on your research, so write it carefully.
Some information that you can include in the cover letter are:
  • The title of the research paper.
  • The kind of submission you are applying for (original article, review, short report, etc...).
  • Details about the research institute, the research group and the authors (who they are, what they published), especially the first author.
  • Contact information of the corresponding author (first and last name(s), address, email, phone number, etc...).
  • A brief background of the research field (what is known, what has not been studied yet).
  • Details about the research that has been carried out (the objective of the study, the experiments performed, etc...)
  • Reasons why the study is great and should be published.
  • Information on the impact of the results obtained in the research field and/or the clinical applications.
If you are lucky and the paper is sent out for peer-review, the editor will get back to you with the detailed comments of each reviewer. At this point, you'll have to modify the manuscript and write an answer to the comments point by point. This answer is sent out to the editor and reviewers, together with a second cover letter. This time, the cover letter should include a description of the changes made to the original article. You'll have to address all the doubts raised by the reviewers and provide data to support your point of view and argumentation. Make sure to be polite and humble in your response to the reviewers.
Finally, it is really important to reread and proofread all the documents you send, including the paper and cover letters, because grammatical and typographical errors can give a really bad impression on your ability to provide clean, accurate and quality scientific information to the reviewers. So before you send anything, ask a colleague or supervisor to double-check your work.
Sophie is a PhD and MBA student and has a passion for scientific writing and for high quality scientific research papers. She has published quite a few papers already on her own, mostly on stroke and myocardial infarction genetics.

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