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Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Cover Letter

A cover letter is a letter written to accompany a job application, a grant application, project reports, manuscripts, etc. that explains the purpose of your writing and incorporates certain key points of your application. It plays a decisive role in accomplishing the task it’s been written for, which is why it is so important to get it right each time. For example, a good cover letter can be the difference between having your CV looked at or thrown in the bin, or your manuscript being viewed at all.

What is a Cover Letter?

A cover letter is something often taken for granted during the job application or manuscript submission process, when in fact it deserves the most attention. It is a small, but crucial, letter that gives information about your accomplishments to prospective employers, acting as a window to your personality and professional calibre rather than being a simple letter! Your cover letter speaks volumes about you and your work and gives that all important first impression.

There are different types of cover letters for different purposes. The ones that we, as researchers, come across often are cover letters for job applications and those accompanying research publications. So, what is involved in each type of cover letter? Let’s discuss these in detail.

Cover Letter for a Job

A cover letter for a job is as important as the resume itself. It tells your potential employer what your resume doesn’t. The cover letter is not an ‘additional document’ but is the very ‘first page’ of your application. It speaks about your job interests, professional skills and capabilities, career goals, gaps in employment, etc. in a positive light. Some of the points that you should keep in mind while writing a cover letter for job are:

Do’s

  • Clarity and brevity is a must. You should be able to put forth your point clearly using minimal words. The cover letter is definitely a case of quality over quantity; it should all fit on one page.
  • The first paragraph of the cover letter should be able to grab the attention of the reader. It could be about why you want the particular job, how you got to know about the vacancy, your career goals, vision, achievements, etc. Be specific.
  • A note about your skills relating to the job’s requirement as well as why you are suited for the job must be included. Giving examples for each attribute or fact could be an added advantage.
  • The document must be free of all the typing, spelling, and grammatical mistakes. Proofread it a few times and when you’re happy with it, ask a friend to proofread it too in case they can pick up on any small errors you might have missed!
  • Check out sample cover letters here and here

Don’ts

  • Don’t copy the cover letter from somewhere. It should be original. Plagiarism is the worst thing you could do.
  • Don’t simply repeat the information as given in your resume. It’s not required.
  • Don’t give any negative information in your cover letter.

Cover letters that accompany submitted manuscripts to journals are of a slightly different class although the idea of producing a brief, concise and informative letter should be retained.

Cover Letter for Research Publications

A cover letter is usually the first thing an editor sees when your precious manuscript arrives in their inbox. The worth of your paper is usually measured by that letter, so it is crucial that you get it right if you don’t want to delay publication of your manuscript! The cover letter plays an important role in deciding whether your paper will proceed to peer-review or not. The letters in this category need to contain certain specific pieces of information to help the editor make their decision.

The opening paragraph should have the title of the manuscript along with the names of all the authors. The type of manuscript viz. review, research article, commentary, etc. must also be mentioned. After this comes the body of text that should contain the background to the study, which is comprised of rationale, objectives, methods, observations, and the significance of the study.

This should be followed by three very crucial statements that must always be present (irrespective of their order):

  1. The manuscript is not published elsewhere and is not simultaneously under consideration by any other journal.
  2. All authors have seen and approved the final draft of the manuscript. They agree to the submission of the manuscript to the journal concerned.
  3. The conflicts of interest must be declared correctly.

Following these declarations, the name and details of possible referees and contact details of the corresponding author must be given.

Do’s

  • Clearly define the rationale of the study, objectives, and relevance of the study.
  • Keep it brief—do not exceed one page.
  • Sign the cover letter.
  • Include the three statements mentioned above.
  • Mention why the paper deserves publication in the journal concerned.

Don’ts

  • Avoid over interpretation of data.
  • Avoid abbreviations.
  • Avoid typing errors and grammatical mistakes.

Hopefully you now realize the importance of a well-written cover letter. I hope the points discussed herein will help you improve your cover letter writing skills. What are your tips for successful cover letter writing? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured image by annilove.

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