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April 27, 2010


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Matthew Reid Krell

I'm not sure I can speak to the utility of a cover letter (since my submissions are done through LexOpus, which requires abstracting, a cover letter is largely just a "Hi, how are you doing, please publish my article," which is redundant), but I can say this: Because I don't hold an academic position, I tend to be suspicious of things that look like opportunities for letterhead bias, so when a journal told me that they would not review my article without a CV, I sent it to them, but expected a rejection. I was pleasantly surprised when they offered to publish, and now I'm publishing with the George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal.

My point (which is somewhat tangential to your post) is two-fold: 1) I wanted to give that journal an attaboy for defying my expectations, and 2) I wanted to point out that there may be uses for parts of the submission package that we don't fully understand. While I'm sure you prawfs have a better handle on how the process works than I do, I learned through this most recent iteration that some pieces of the package have roles I haven't discerned. In the future, I'll think hard about including things like cover letters and CVs.

Tim Zinnecker

I'm skeptical that the cover letter serves any useful purpose other than playing into the letterhead bias. Any description of the article itself won't differ much from a separate abstract, and the self-promotion is served by the c.v. What's left? An email address or telephone number for contact purposes?

As an aside, I didn't include my c.v. with my most recent submission (via Expresso). One journal editor confirmed receipt of the manuscript and asked me to send my c.v. I asked why. I never received a response.

Jacqueline Lipton

Matthew and Tim: Are you suggesting that the cover letter potentially plays into the already existing letterhead bias or that it creates letterhead bias in and of itself? As the student editors already know where the author is from with or without reading the cover letter (and I'm now less convinced than ever that students even download the cover letter from Expresso), I'm wondering to what extent either claim is true these days. I'd be interested in thoughts of student editors who may be reading this thread.

Tim Zinnecker

Jacqui, I see your point. I'm assuming that editors peruse the letter before perusing the manuscript (or the author's biographical and acknowledgment footnote). If my assumption is in error, then the bias might remain -- but I can't blame it on the cover letter.

Matthew Reid Krell

Well, since I use my law school e-mail address for scholarship, I turn up as "affiliated" with the law school. But once you read my CV or cover letter, you realize that I'm not an academic at all.

So in my particular case, unless journal editors are doing background research before they ever read an article, the CV/cover letter does create letterhead bias.

I say that; my first placement was in a journal at my law school, where I am certain the piece was accepted because this year's articles editor is a friend of mine. Seriously, it took the journal 45 minutes to accept the paper after it was submitted.

Scott Dodson

A cover letter could include useful information that otherwise would not ordinarily appear in a CV: that your draft has been downloaded 1,000 times on SSRN, that it was recently designed "Highly Recommended" by a certain blog, that the article directly relates to an upcoming Supreme Court case that won't render the issue irrelevant but that might result in a Supreme Court citation, or that you are submitting exclusively or semi-exclusively or that you have some other unusual submission parameter. But, I have no idea if any of this information is (a) read or (b) matters to a decision.

Anon in SF

So *that's* how you get those good placements, Scott! I always wondered, since it's clearly not the quality of the thinking or writing. Guess puffery in cover letters works!

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I believe coverletters that are done with two colums your needs my skills is a very quick way to show the employer what you can really do for them quickly.

It has worked well for me in my career as a counselor and vocational counselor and its what I teach so, I am a little biased.


Not only is a cover letter important for landing an interview but an opportunity to showcase your creative talent by writing one.

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