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I only have used cover letters if (i) there has been some kind of technical glitch during submission (like I can't select relevant keywords), or (ii) I have some 'meta' comment for the editor ('I've done by best to anonymize this MS, however . . .') Otherwise I just ignore the cover letter box.

Of course, this only applies to initial submissions; an R&R demands a detailed note, to the editor, describing how the MS has or has not been modified.


I normally use a short default cover letter. (E.g., "The paper is not under review anywhere else, and I believe fits the journal.") In some situations, I will provide a more extensive cover letter to get over the initial editorial hump. (One or two paragraphs long) Those situations include things like (a) maybe its not obvious that my paper fits the journal, but I think it does so I will explain; (b) the paper may seem superficially similar to something that is already published and I want to point out why it isn't; (c) special reasons why I think the paper extends discussion in this specific journal. I don't know how useful or effective these longer cover letters are


I write a cover letter for:

(1) Journals which require one. (Yes, these still exist! It's usually pro forma, but still.)

(2) When I'm submitting a paper that's unusual or odd in some way. I use the cover letter to let the editors know about the oddity so that they can have an easier time selecting reviewers and won't be put off by reports which mention the oddity. So, for example, I have one paper that was rejected eight times before being accepted by a tippy-top journal. Most of those rejections were really nasty, and just before the acceptance, the referees said it was unpublishable in any philosophy journal. That's because the paper involved a fair bit of original historical research, which was necessary to corroborate its philosophical claims. I wrote the cover letter for that last submission, and I'm convinced it made the difference. For one thing, I actually got referees who knew something about the history of related issues!

(3) For special issues or topical collections. It's not long or anything, but I note that it's for the special issue/collection and give a quick explanation of how it fits the theme.

Jonathan Ichikawa

I do not suggest using the cover letter to explain that while your paper replies to a particular argument by a single author, it nevertheless has broader implications that warrants considering it as a standalone paper. That is something to show rather than tell, in the paper itself.

Chivers Butler


What's wrong with showing *and* telling? That is, what potential downside is there to telling as a form of insurance against superficial rejection?

Marcus Arvan

Chivers (& Jonathan): Right, I guess my concern here is that if an editor begins reading a paper that appears to be "just a reply", then they might not read far enough to give it a chance...unless you give some kind of explanation in a cover letter. I've had some papers like this (that I don't think were 'just replies') rejected on the grounds that the journal in question doesn't publish replies. This is a bit frustrating, and the main reason why I wondered whether a cover letter could help.

Junior Scholar

I cannot imagine submitting and not including a brief, relevant cover letter. I was surprised to see the comment that it is a rarely used function when people submit to journals.

There are sometimes good reasons to reject conventions of professionalism (assumptions about wardrobe, hair cut or color, tattoos/piercings, etc.) but call me old-fashioned, some aspects of professionalism should not fall out of favor like writing a cover letter (meeting deadlines, starting and ending correspondences with salutations that reflect appropriate levels of formality or familiarity). I am a junior person in the field, but came to philosophy after another career, so maybe I am importing my expectations from outside the profession. But if it is a "profession" and not merely a calling, a passion, etc. then I think we treat it as such. Write a cover letter! It is polite, and can help frame the work/fit, and shows appreciation for those receiving your work.


I have been submitting papers for years, and have published quite a number of papers in numerous different journals. Since most journals now use the EM system, I just write in the box for the cover letter: "Thank you for considering my submission". I have never got negative feedback about this, and the only desk rejection I had was when a colleague was the first author and sent the paper in (I do not know if they included a cover letter).


Junior Scholar, if you do not mind, could you please share what do you usually write about in your cover letters?

I have to admit that I am one of those philosophers who never write a cover letter. In part, this is because I don't know what to write in the cover letter. In most cases I think there's nothing extra worth pointing out to the editor about the paper. I suspect other might feel like me on this so you comments might be useful to multiple people reading the thread.

Junior Scholar

@Damian: It depends on the submission, but like others on this thread, I do something ranging from "Dear Editors of... Thank you for considering my submission [title X] for publication in your journal" and affirmation that the paper is not under consideration elsewhere, to more detailed letters that indicate why I am submitting to the particular journal (especially if I reference literature from the journal or an article from it is central to my argument, or if I want to reference something about the journal's mission and why my paper fits with it). Depending on the submission and the paper, I might give 1-2 sentences on the argument of the paper (like an elevator pitch) to help editors identify potential reviewers or to highlight what is novel about the paper.

I think we all hope our work speaks for itself, but I find that it doesn't hurt to prime the reader to notice the thing I hope they notice about the paper (in addition to whatever they glean directly from reading it) especially if it helps an editor or reviewer give me better feedback (i.e. they can tell me that what I thought I was doing with the paper didn't come across, but perhaps offer an R&R to fix it rather than an outright rejection). If I am responding to an R&R I express appreciation to the reviewers for their feedback and summarize how I present the edited version in the re-submission. Overall, my cover letters are 1-2 sentences or a short paragraph at most.

Relevant to more junior people: I also got feedback from mentors that it didn't hurt to indicate if you are early career (PhD student/candidate, post-doc, pre-tenure etc.) because some journals or reviewers might be more inclined to offer more comprehensive feedback if they see it as a learning tool. Not that they will change their publication standards because the person is early career, bu they might see more reason to give detailed comments with a rejection or R&R in an effort to support an early-career scholar's development. I would be curious what others think about this in cover letters.


Thank you Junior Scholar! That is very informative and useful. I will definitely try to put some of your suggestions into use the next time I am submitting a paper.

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