How to write a good cover letter

What is a cover letter?
Your cover letter should be added as a separate text to the beginning of the draft you are submitting to your colleagues for review. The cover letter is the method by how you communicate to your colleagues about how they should assess your draft. It should include all the information that the reviewers need to know in order to give you useful and critical feedback. This includes background information about your draft article and any specific areas that you wish to seek advice on. There is no set format for this, so you are free to write your cover letter as you think is best.

Why should I write a cover letter?
It is very important that you write a clear and concise cover letter so that your writing group members know exactly how to assess your text. This is because without a cover letter, the reviewers can only guess what feedback you require. Another advantage of writing a cover letter is that authors often find this helps them to identify weaknesses in their own current draft. It is for these reasons that we strongly encourage you to take time and consideration in composing a cover letter.

How do I write a good cover letter?
A good cover letter generally contains some or all of the following information:
1. Background information about the text.
“What I submit below is the first draft of the introduction of a paper …”

2. Clear guidelines on what aspects of the text feedback is expected on (this can include both positive and negative features).
“Have I clearly identified the research gap in my introduction?”
“Can you understand the gist of what I have written?”
“Please also highlight any aspects of my draft that are convincing and easy to read.”

3. An invitation to comment on (or not comment on) other issues not included in the cover letter
“Please do comment on any other parts of the text you do not understand.”
“Please don’t comment on local issues (e.g., spelling and grammar) unless they impede understanding.”

4. In-text comment boxes on specific points within your draft that specific help is needed with.

5. Other information (not specified above) that is relevant that will help the reviewers give useful and critical feedback.

Furthermore, we would recommend that you write your cover letter in a polite and friendly way. You can use openings (e.g. “Dear Writing Group”), closings (e.g. “All the best, Anu”), and other friendly language such as reference to past feedback (e.g. “Thank you for your comments from last week.”) and to future contact (e.g “I look forward to our next meeting.”).

In addition do take a realistic and reviewer’s perspective. If your writing group members are not experts in your field, do not expect them to comment on specific and specialised concepts included in your draft as your supervisor (should) do. However, your colleagues will be educated readers with at least some knowledge about your area of expertise. Thus, they can most definitely be trusted to comment on passages of your text that seem ‘illogical’ or difficult to read.

Finally, do remember that your cover letter is the very place to underline the doubts, issues and problems that you might have with your current draft (and not to hide them as we usually do with the final product).

Take a reviewer’s perspective
Consider that you are going to give feedback on your own draft(s) based solely on your cover letter. Look back through the cover letter you are writing (or have written) and consider the following points:
1. Do your cover letters include all or some of the points mentioned above?
2. If you were the reviewer, would you know exactly how to give useful feedback on your draft.
3. Have you received useful and/or expected feedback on your draft based on your cover letter?
4. If not, how could you improve your cover letter(s)?
Please remember to include your cover letter on the same document (and before) your draft for submission.

Please remember to include your cover letter on the same document (and before) your draft for submission.

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