Comment thread

We’re excited to see plenty of conversation about posts in Rapid Ecology, across a wide range of media, including twitter, facebook, email, and personal blogs. We’ve had several thousand visitors just in our first week!

A few have asked if we can allow permanent comments directly on each post. We leave this choice for individual authors – when you submit a post, you can make this choice. We recognize that, at any given moment, there are posts and other ecology-related issues that folks want to discuss publicly. Facebook is private, many ecologists aren’t on twitter, and ecolog is, well, a listserv.

So, we are opening up this comment thread.

This is here for comment and conversation. I think the only guideline is to be civil. (Note that you don’t have to provide your name and email address, though if you do, your email will be kept private.) Our plan is to open up a thread like this every week, but we are making this up as we go along, and will change course as need arises. If you have thoughts about comment threads, now you know where to put them!

Here you go:

Categories: Science

8 replies »

  1. Are cover letters any use? Some folks have been saying (on twitter and over at Dynamic Ecology) that they are important for the editor-in-chief to use to assign an editor, or decide to do a desk reject because it’s not relevant enough to the journal. But there also have been remarks from editors, saying how cover letters are about the pitch and the hype and may not even well represent what’s in the paper — and they just get ignored:

    As an editor, when I look at a new submission, I read the abstract and browse the paper instead of looking at the sales pitch in the cover letter. But it looks like some folks do like the sales pitch.

    • Is it possible to see through the hype in a cover letter without reading the manuscript? If reading the manuscript is required by the editor, why have a cover letter?

  2. In “The Irony of Impostor Syndrome” the author says, “When you find your people, support them. Or even if they’re not your people—compliment them.”

    This really struck a chord with me. I have to actively remind myself that if someone has impressed me (especially an early career researcher), I should let them know. This isn’t something that comes naturally to me, but I think it’s so important for us to support each other.

    I often find that when I make a point to compliment another grad student on their work, they seem really surprised and moved, even if my comment was really simple and small. I think we should help each other out more by turning those inner thoughts into words from time to time.

    • I agree! It is a great practice to tell others when you admire their work. This is something that I have especially tried to develop in regards to student* presentations – I try to go one step beyond telling them “great job” and find a specific example of what I liked in their talk. Maybe something along the lines of: “Hey Mary, I really enjoyed your talk at the conference yesterday. I think you did a great job of explaining a complex concept using easy-to-understand terminology. Also, your pacing was perfect!”

      This type of feedback can really help people to know that their hard prep work paid off and that they should keep up the good work.

      *Naturally, this goes for all professional levels.

  3. Just to elaborate on Terry’s kind summary of some of the posts and comments at DE:

    There are indeed EiCs and handling editors at selective journals–quite conscientious ones who are good at their jobs–who do read and value cover letters as an aid to helping them decide whether the ms is worth sending out for review. I wouldn’t venture to estimate the percentage of EiCs and handling editors at selective journals who find cover letters useful, but I doubt it’s a trivially small fraction. As examples of conscientious editors and EiCs at selective EEB journals who read and value cover letters, there’s me (handling editor at Am Nat), Brian McGill (EiC of Global Ecology and Biogeography;, and Robin Snyder (handling editor at Am Nat; Speaking for myself, I value them in part because I’m comfortable with my ability to see through exaggerated hype. I also find them useful because as a handling editor I’m often asked to handle mss outside my area of greatest expertise (and that goes even more for EiCs). Ms summaries that are less technical than the abstract are therefore helpful to me.

    Clearly, your mileage may vary on whether cover letters are useful. I would never tell any EiC or handling editor who ignores cover letters that they’re wrong to ignore them (though now I’m curious how many people would tell me, Brian, or Robin that we’re Doing It Wrong to look at cover letters. 🙂 ). And yes, EiCs and handling editors who want cover letters can and do muddle through if they’re not provided. But my own feeling is that if a journal says it wants a cover letter describing in non-technical terms what the ms says and why it’s a good fit for the journal, well, then as an author it’s probably sensible to provide one. I tend to default to the assumption that journal policies exist for a decent reason. As an author, if the journal asks me for X I tend to assume that it’s because the EiC and/or at least *some* of the handling editors want to see X. And if there’s a possibility that some of the editors might want to see a cover letter, I don’t mind writing one.

    Probably, it behooves any journal to periodically revisit its policies, on this and other matters. I can tell you that we do this at Am Nat, and I assume but don’t know it happens at other selective EEB journals (as evidenced, e.g., by occasional changes in their policies, for instance regarding data sharing). If it turns out that nobody on the editorial board actually reads cover letters, then sure, the journal should stop asking authors for them.

  4. I’ve found some cover letters helpful in my role as a handling editor, and as an author I think that carefully written cover letters have helped some of my manuscripts find their homes. I appreciate how they can give context for a study, or raise concise arguments in favor of a paper that would seem out of place in an abstract. But just as often, in my experience, they are a rote exercise that doesn’t do much more than restate the abstract and some other boilerplate language. And I find it confusing that some journals very explicitly want a cover letter, and may even indicate in the author guidelines what they want to see in the letter, while others don’t mention them in their guidelines at all. So I suppose I come down cautiously pro-cover letter, but I would like more journals to make their policies and expectations clearer, and I might be just as happy if there were an optional box in the manuscript submission system to include a brief message for the EiC/handling editor. I think that was suggested in the DE comment thread.

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