I recently submitted a paper and was a little lost as to what to put in a cover letter. I found a nice guide by an editor of Nature. There is a lot of useful advice in there, but the cover letter suggestions included things that I hadn't thought of before.
The article is about submitting a paper in general, but the key points for the cover letter from that article, "How do I submit a paper to a scientific journal," by Maxine Clarke, are as follows:
When you submit your paper, the cover letter should contain:
- Your name, address, phone, fax and e-mail numbers.
- If you are going to be away from your usual address for any length of time during the three months after submission, include this information (dates and, where relevant, alternative contact details).
- State briefly, in a sentence or two, why you think the paper is important and why the journal should publish it (in other words, state the main conclusion of the paper).
- If anyone in the field has read the paper and commented on it before submission, name these people in the cover letter, particularly if they are individuals of high standing in the field and/or if they are on the editorial board of the journal.
- If you would like a particular person in the field to referee your paper, suggest this person (although you must be confident that the person is independent, in other words does not collaborate with you or have any other reason to be biased in your favour).
- Similarly, if there is anyone you would not like to review your paper because you think they would not give an objective assessment, state this person's name and laboratory.
- Any other details you think are relevant.