Here is a small book on writing for graduate students by Shuyi Chua.
Here are a number of tips about writing and submitting journal articles that may be of use to established and budding academics.
How to write a persuasive cover letter when submitting your article to a journal
Write a Persuasive Cover Letter
One editor was most annoyed by:
“Lack of a cover letter that provides more than a statement of submission, exclusivity, and authorship – i.e., doesn't explain why the manuscript is worth reviewing.”
The cover letter is much more important than many authors realize. This letter usually is your first contact with the editor, and the editor will make some important decisions about your paper based on the contents and professionalism of your cover letter. Note: The cover letter is the only section of the manuscript that is single-spaced.
The purpose of the cover letter is to explain – politely – what you are submitting and why. State the title and length of your manuscript and indicate the number of tables and figures. Explain why you decided to submit your manuscript to that particular journal. Why would your paper be of interest to the readers of that journal? What are the strengths of your paper? Explain which section of the target journal would be most appropriate for your manuscript (e.g., Original Articles, Brief Communications, or Reviews). In the salutation of the cover letter, make sure that you use the current editor's name – and spell it correctly. Avoid writing “Dear Editor.” Avoid using the name of the editor of the journal that you submitted to on your first try.
The editor must believe that your paper will increase the impact factor for that journal. The editor must be able to easily understand what is new in your paper and why he should care. Therefore, you must subtly articulate how your paper will provide important information that will be referenced by other researchers in the next few years.
Vivian Siegel stressed the following lessons on interacting with professional biomedical journal editors. Treat editors as a senior colleague or mentor but in a professional and diplomatic way. Help the editors appreciate the significance of your work. Explain what is already known about this area and the advances presented in your paper. Summarize what is new and why the editor should care. The important question that is answered in this paper is X and that is important because of Y. Describe any related papers that you have submitted or will submit soon. Help the editor identify appropriate reviewers, especially for papers that use unusual methodologies or have a limited number of qualified experts.
Presubmission inquiries allow you to ask several editors from different journals at the same time whether your paper might be something they would be interested in seeing. Although it is unethical to submit your paper to multiple journals simultaneously, this is allowed for these inquiries. This can save you time by having editors tell you that this is not a subject that they would publish, and for the one with the most positive feedback, you have them anticipating your submission, which can make it stand out from the competition. The presubmission inquiry should summarize your study in one or two pages; include the abstract and why you think that your paper would be appropriate for that journal. You can and should do this before the paper is finished.
Some journals such as The New England Journal of Medicine have an online Presubmission Inquiries website: https://cdf.nejm.org/misc/authors/PresubmissionInquiries.aspx
Editors and associate editors often attend scientific meetings. Introduce yourself to them and develop a professional relationship. Offer to review for them and explain why you are a good reviewer for specific topics. Tell them about your research and invite them to your talk or poster. Tell them what you like about their journal and offer ideas for making it stronger. To quote Vivian Siegel, “Treat editors as your colleagues and they will become your advocates.”
Principle 243 – Recognize how editors define a good article
Table 33.1 shows editors' definitions of a good article. If you can, include a few of these elements in your cover letter.
Table 33.1. Editor's Definitions of a Good Article
- One that elicits a Eureka response when one is finished reading it
- Tells a good story, doesn't need the readers to do a lot of outside literature research to understand meaning
- Simple, clear, logical, explicit
- Short, rich on methods, truncated discussion
- Important contribution to a real problem
- A good article clearly reports the findings of a well-designed and rigorously conducted investigation. It clearly explains the question being addressed, why it's important, the extent to which the findings address the question, and what remains to be elucidated in future research
- Clear, concise, but sufficiently comprehensive to have explained all the main parts of the study, background, and analysis
- Well conceptualized, well designed, relevant, timely, advances knowledge or practice in a meaningful way
- Significant importance, adequate data to support conclusions, and strong intro and discussion to support the importance
- A clearly written, logical piece of work that presents new ideas and supports them with strong experiments, adequate controls, and good experimental design
- Identification of the problem to be addressed: low, to no, bias: meaningful results, both statistically and clinically
- Well-written, good scientific design, clinical importance
- Clinically impactful, focusing on a well-defined problem which offers scientific significance, employs an incisive and informative approach: provides well-controlled data derived from validated or established experimental systems: includes appropriate statistical powering of the data enabling the possibility of a valid interpretation; scholarly integration with other work in the field that illustrates the nature and extent of the advance offered
- Important question addressed with appropriate methods and addresses current gaps
- One that provides sound evidence to prove a hypothesis and in turn changes and improves the way medicine is practiced
- One that has the potential to change clinical practice
- Written in a straightforward manner, proceeds logically, accurate with appropriate sourcing, has clinical implications, and is on a topic that readers will care about
Good Study Design
- Clean methodology
- One that develops a creative or original problem derived from a strong theoretical base; clear hypotheses, adequate sample size, with conclusions drawn specifically from the findings
- Well designed
- Good statistics (fitted to problem type and size)
- Strict adherence to scientific and statistical methodology
- Adequate data sets with clinical correlation
- One that reports clearly and in sufficient detail on a well-designed and well-conducted research experiment or an important question
Original and Important Results
- New information
- Clinically useful
- Broad clinical application
- Well designed, addressing a new idea, not too long, incisive, and informative discussion
- Exciting, new, well-supported data
- Original study, with well-defined aims; well-conceived, executed, and presented
- Newness, trueness, and timeliness
Strong Presentation of the Data
- Clearly presented
- Targets readership
- Organized, logical, clearly written with good methods
- Well referenced
- One that conforms to the journal's information for authors and contains new, important, well set out information that is likely to really interest readers; refers to up-to-date, relevant references in the world literature
Conclusions Supported by Data
- Results not over interpreted
- Appropriate interpretation of results Well-Written and Concise
- Short, concise, clean methodology
- A concise, well-written report of a well-designed study
- Good writing
- One that has content that meets the journal's purpose and is well written (readable)
- Good flow of ideas; easy to follow
- Useful information that is well written
*From question 30 of the Peer Review Questionnaire (Appendix B)
Principle 244 – Recommend several reviewers.
A.H. Sulzberger of the New York Times said, “I believe in keeping an open mind, but not so open that my brain falls out.” Similarly, most reviewers try to keep an open mind. Naturally, however, some reviewers will be biased against your study, and getting a fair evaluation from them would be difficult.
Many journalists permit – even encourage – authors to submit the names of potential reviewers, and obviously, the editor will screen out colleagues at your institution and your previous coauthors.
If possible, recommend a reviewer who understands your point of view, keeps an open mind, and is qualified to evaluate your paper. Remember, the first thing that some reviewers look for is whether you referenced their previous publications and whether you commented favorably on their findings. You can avoid insulting the recommended reviewers by including their relevant publications in your references but stay within ethical boundaries. Recently, authors were caught recommending themselves and colleagues as reviewers for their own paper using fake e-mail addresses.
You can also recommend a very specific type of expert who would be qualified to review your research without naming someone.
Further, let the editor know whether there is anyone you do not want to review your paper. Editors usually honor these requests. You simply enter the person's name and check a box labeled something like “Designate as Non-Preferred Reviewer.”
You and your coauthors should discuss the list of preferred reviewers at least several days before you begin the online submission.
Principle 245 – Be candid about what information in your paper has been published or presented before.
Reassure the editor that the information in your paper has not been published before. Also state that you will not submit the manuscript to another journal until the review process is complete. Be sure to describe and submit a copy of any part of the research that has been published (e.g., the abstract). Also, tell the editor about any closely related papers but then explain what NEW information this paper provides.
Principle 246 – Provide a contact person.
On the title page and in the cover letter, identify the author who is responsible for manuscript negotiations. Provide the corresponding author's full name and full mailing address, all pertinent telephone numbers, and an e-mail address. Make sure that the address is clear and complete, especially if it is outside the country of the target journal.
Principle 247 – Introduce yourself and your coauthors to the editor – politely.
Although few authors do this, you should be aware that providing information about yourself and your coauthors can be helpful at some journals; at others, it makes no difference. In your cover letter, you can briefly provide information, such as your credentials and the experience that makes you uniquely qualified to write this paper. Although you may have explained in the Methods section where the study was conducted, in the cover letter, you can explain the advantages of conducting a study there.
Explain that each coauthor has seen and approved the final draft of the manuscript. See the section in Appendix A, Section II.A.2.
Although a well-written cover letter is helpful, a more important concern, as one expert said, is “to have the correct format and ordering of contents of the manuscript.”