What Does the Journal Editor Want To Hear?
This is undoubtedly a central question for the scholar who works to draft an alluring and informative covering letter to accompany the paper he or she is submitting to the acquisitions editor of a scientific or academic journal. The perfect answer is not easy to come by, partially because it varies widely according to a number of factors, such as the content of the paper and the range and focus of the journal, as well as the personal preferences and training of the acquisitions editor. It is essential, of course, to write a paper that fits into the kind of scholarship the journal publishes and to follow the journal’s author guidelines precisely and consistently, but there is usually more than one way to find a sound fit, and the way in which your work is described in your covering letter can make a great difference in how that all-important editor will view your paper.

Generally speaking, acquisitions editors for scholarly journals might want to hear that your research is well grounded but groundbreaking, analysed with care and discussed with educated insight, productive of significant implications and recommendations, and linked with concerns that have played a significant part in articles recently published by the journal. You will only have a few succinct sentences in which to present your paper or perhaps a few short paragraphs – anything longer will prove tedious for a busy editor – but you will need to do some research to know what might be best to highlight out of the many aspects of your work that could be emphasised. Familiarising yourself with the articles published in recent issues of the journal is an obvious necessity, but you might also want to look into the career and publications of the journal’s editor and perhaps even into the work of the peer reviewers likely to be used by the journal, if, that is, you know who they might be. The object here is not to misrepresent your work, which is never a good idea, but to highlight any especially persuasive matters and anticipate and resolve any concerns that seem particularly likely to arise based on what you learn.

Remember as you are drafting your letter to the acquisitions editor that he or she is a trained professional reader who will be listening for your written voice as well as what it says. By this I mean that how you write to the editor can be as important as what you write about. Your sentences should be grammatically correct and carefully punctuated, and they should convey exactly what you intend with clarity and precision. All spelling and typing errors must be eliminated, and it is essential that any specific information you mention about the journal, its editor, its articles, its reviewers, its submissions procedures, its mission and its practices be correct. Your accuracy and attention to detail in the covering letter will suggest to the editor that the same high standards will be apparent throughout your manuscript and will also imply that those same standards were part of your research process. Errors in style and fact and a general lack of clarity and precision will achieve just the opposite.

Remember that tone of voice can also be apparent in written text, so give some thought to the attitudes and unspoken thoughts that you might be expressing in your prose. When you reread your draft or have a colleague or mentor read it, ask whether you sound knowledgeable, sincere and enthusiastic. Those and other positive qualities will often produce far better results than a tone that conveys arrogance, manipulation and ambition. Finally, will what you say and how you say it suggest to a busy acquisitions editor that you are willing and able to work in whatever ways might be necessary to make your paper as good as it can be and achieve successful publication in the journal? If not, a little revision to attain that sort of flexible voice might be in order.