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Journal Submission Cover Letter/Letterhead

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Hi all,

I am in the process of submitting an article for consideration at a Women's Studies journal and had a question about writing the cover letter that they are requesting. The journal is requesting a cover note with contact info and an abstract.

As a graduate student, should I write my cover letter on my university's letterhead, or should I make my own? I'm thinking the latter, as the university letterhead has my department's mailing address, but I want to provide the journal with my personal mailing address for correspondence purposes. 

I've gotten conflicting information about grad students using university letterhead for anything other than job letters. In one case, I heard that university letterhead should be used for all academic letters, whether it is for a journal or job market. If you have any valuable advice about submitting a cover letter with a prospective journal article in the humanities, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

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The letterhead is entirely unnecessary. It's used for official communications from your position in the department (e.g. writing someone a reference letter), or on behalf of the department as a whole. It can also be used to prepare cover letters for job applications. But not a whole lot more, and as a grad student the only relevant potential use is the last one.

Cover letters accompanying journal submissions run the gamut from trivial and irrelevant to a serious requirement. From what you've said, it sounds like yours is mostly just a formality used by the editors to screen the submission/find referees, and then to contact you later (which is to say, to help them identify which paper was yours; contact will almost certainly be by email). Sometimes journals want a more involved cover letter, in which case you should give a few sentences summing up your paper's argument, why it's a good fit for the journal, how it fits in with recent work published in the journal, etc.

Alternately, if you have a weird paper, the cover letter is your chance to convince the editors to give it a chance (and to help them find suitable referees by being upfront about its weird content). I have a weird paper coming out soon in a really good journal that was like that: it marries the methods and results of three disciplines to get a handle on a single problem, and opens an entirely unexplored avenue of historical research in the process. It flunked hard, over and over again, for years and years, until I realized that I could pre-empt a lot of the pushback I was getting by explaining, in my cover letter, exactly why the approach I took was necessary, being clear about its interdisciplinary nature, and telling the editors just what I thought upshot was for work in my discipline. I immediately got much better-qualified and more supportive referees, and the editors themselves seem to have had a lot more faith in the paper.

As I said, yours sounds like it doesn't need to be anything like so involved! I just thought it might be handy to say a bit more, in case you or anyone else ever needs to write a more involved cover letter.

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FWIW, I never use my personal mailing address for any work-related correspondence. I use my university address (both mail and email). As a grad student, I did use my personal cell phone number, though of course no one ever actually used it. 

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Adding to the above, although the journal I submit to still says a letterhead is required, my advisor told me it doesn't matter. So for one paper, I tried not submitting one and voila, no problems. With a few exceptions (e.g. what @maxhgns said) I do think they are mostly formalities. I mean, everyone is basically saying "here's my paper, hope you think it's great, please accept it". I do include cover letters for a referee report though.

As for letterhead or not, I agree that it is not necessary to have letterhead. However, even as an undergraduate, I used my work address for everything. All of my work as a scientist was in some employed role, it's not like I am doing this on my own free time. So work address and contact info in all cases. You shouldn't get any physical letters so if you are worried that they will send something to a physical mailbox you don't regularly check, it shouldn't be a big deal. 

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