This week I’m continuing our series on publications by asking “what the hell is in a journal cover letter?”
I was confused when I first had to write one of these. I felt I’d screwed up the courage to storm the gates of some bastion of prestige and learning only to find an arcane Greek maze on the inside with equally Greek riddles.
As if the paper itself weren’t enough, and as though the title, abstract, and keywords were still somehow misleading, I had to write a cover letter and a short treatise on why I thought my paper belonged in that journal (the score of this test later revealed my answer, that it met the aims of the journal, was, in fact, wrong – it was rejected).
I remember reading a plaintive statement recently that all art has to come into this world swaddled in text these days – endless discursive components of explanation and justification for the things themselves – but I have been surprised to learn just how much text also must be swaddled in yet more prolegomenal text.
If I revealed to the editors my ignorance about this rite, could the outcome be any worse than if I blundered the thing? I really couldn’t be sure I’d interpreted the separate purposes of these little chunks correctly, so I wrote to a contact address.
Dear <Dr. X>,
I am in the process of submitting a paper to Journal and I notice the online submission form requests a cover letter in addition to the abstract and the explanation of why have chosen to submit my paper to the journal. In the author guidelines I was unable to locate any mention of what this letter ought to include, and I was hoping you might let me know what information I can offer that will be of value in assessing my submission but won’t duplicate what is already provided by an abstract and explanation of the choice to submit to Journal.
He, kindly and obligingly, replied thus:
A cover letter is usually used, as a minimum, to introduce yourself to the editors – it’s a matter of politeness rather than information provision.
Editorial Office Manager
Though the paper ultimately wasn’t published in this particular journal, I gather my package of materials went over just fine because it was considered fairly and thoroughly and usefully. To that end, I’ll share the form of the letter I wound up writing, à la The Professor Is In, in case it might help you in the future.
Day Month Year
Dear Dr. X, Dr. Y, Dr. Z,
I am pleased to be submitting my manuscript entitled “<Title>” for consideration of publication as an article in Journal.
In attempting to trace an object—the <object>—through its supply chain, from factories in <location>, some of which are on the move to <location>, to instrument retailers in <location>, this paper reveals a history of labour exploitation and a workers’ struggle unfolding internationally through nodes of consumer citizens who are organized around <X, Y, Z> communities and the creative economies in which they’re embedded.
My research intervenes along the same lines as those identified through the journal’s <year> round table, which sought to inspire contributions framed around accessible approaches, such as object–centered studies in the geographies of commodities, and around topics capable of provoking debate about the politics of consumption. Through a consideration of the way labour politics generates solidarities between differently located struggles, this work also contributes to conversations in recent issues of Journal about racial difference and belonging and, even more broadly, about the contradictions inherent to the neoliberal capitalist project.
Thank you for your consideration of my work. Please feel free to correspond with me about anything concerning this manuscript by email (<my@email address.com). I look forward to hearing from you.
My Institutional Address
I decided to blend information in with politeness after all. I allowed my other letter, the one about fit, to address in greater detail the contribution of my paper to the journal’s mandate and the directions it had recently reflected upon taking in an editorial.
I know Dustin also recently submitted to his first journal that required a cover letter, so maybe he’ll offer a comparison from the world of psychology.