Law Review Article Length -- Real Changes?:
A few months ago, a bunch of the top law reviews announced a change in their submission policies that introduced a preference for shorter articles. There was lots of commentary about the new policies both here and elsewhere. Now that the spring law review season is winding down, I'm wondering if the new policies made any difference. Did authors submit shorter pieces? Did the editors actually prefer shorter pieces, or did the change in policy exist only on paper?

  We'll get an idea of the answer in a year or two, when the new articles come out and readers can see whether they are on average shorter than the articles in recent years. We'll also know in a year or two whether journals beyond the initial group adopted the same or similar preferences. In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to get a jump on that by asking for reader feedback. If you either submitted an article to a law journal this spring or were an editor at a law journal, please consider posting a comment below.

  Authors, please begin your comment with "AUTHOR:", and then say whether you shortened your submission in response to the new policies. Editors, please begin your comment with "EDITOR:", and then fill us in on whether editors at your journal were attentive to article length and whether you think your journal preferred shorter-than-average pieces. (Also, please include whether your journal was one of the journals that signed on to the change in submission policies.)

  Thanks to everyone for participating. The results are obviously going to be impressionistic at best, but I think it's better than nothing.
A Blogger:
AUTHOR: I shorteneed my submission from about 60 pages to about 50 pages.
4.21.2005 12:17am
KW (mail):
Author: I shortened a submission in progress that was going to be around 70-75 pages. It's now around 50. It needed an overhaul anyway -- the new guidelines pushed me in one particular direction.
4.21.2005 12:27am
Justin (mail) (www):
Author: No, but I was only at 16,000 words. My second article that I'm working in will also clock in around 16,000 words. I've never read a 70 page article that didn't spend at least 20 pages wasting my time. The real problem, though, is the 70 page articles that make me spend 70 pages wasting my time.
4.21.2005 1:16am
Kevin C (mail) (www):
EDITOR: I am an editor on one of the journals that signed on to the new policy. Many of the articles we read and reviewed included a note that they had been shortened to comply with the new policy. As editors, we made a conscious effort to consider article length in our publication decisions. We were not thinking "this is the new policy, you must follow the policy," it was more along the lines of "we have asked the authors to tighten things up and eliminate redundant and/or overly summarized sections, did this author do that?"

We also made at least one request that an article be shortened (an appendix ended up being removed to bring the length down). Some articles felt like they needed to go beyond the suggested length, and we did not contemplate shortening those, but for the most part we wanted to stick to the limits.

The way I think of the new policy is that many (probably most) articles submitted to law reviews can easily summarize the background and make their argument within the given parameters. However, many of the authors who could submit excellent shorter pieces feel the need to draw the piece out to make it seem more substantial. The reality is that there are great topics that can be handled in a small piece (we are publishing one that is only 25 pages), but those great topics become mind-numbing and repetitive when they are drawn out. The guidelines are not hard and fast because there are some articles that simply cannot be written in less than 100 or more pages. The topic could be incredibly broad, or the case law might be extremely complex and/or unknown.
4.21.2005 1:24am
old articles editor:
EDITOR: I'm an outgoing articles editor of a journal that signed the new policy. Recently I asked the new committee if any of the articles they had picked up exceeded the new word limit, and they said that every article they accepted was within the limit.

I voted in favor of the the policy when I was on the ad board, but when the new committee took over, I warned them about it. I explained that my hope was in the future most professors would write tighter, more concise (and less sprawling) articles. My fear was that, at least in the first year or two, many professors would simply cut footnotes and support in order to fit under the word count. This is perfectly understandable: I too believe that footnoting has gotten out of control, and I had many fights with my MEs over whether more support was needed (ie, do I really have to footnote Erie when it is just mentioned in passing). However, I also think that in many articles, in addition to fewer footnotes, there could be a corresponding reduction in above-the-line text. However, as someone who has done a lot of writing over his academic career, I believe it is much easier to write a lot rather than a tightly argued paper. Where this new policy could fail is that professors continue to try to write articles that are still sprawling, just with less support, which should not be the goal.

Of course, maybe my fears are unfounded. So, I guess I would be interested in hearing how professors addressed the new policy. Did they simply look to cut as many footnotes as possible while leaving the above the line intact, or did it require a whole reworking of the article? Do professors believe this policy could actually force authors to become better writers, or will there be continued resistance to it?
4.21.2005 2:05am
Vic Fleischer (www):
AUTHOR: I shortened my article, which was on a fairly technical topic about taxation and private equity funds, from 60 to 45 pages. I did so by removing some quasi-empirical stuff, removing unnecessary footnotes, tightening the writing a bit, and removing some of the summary of the literature. Probably not a wise move. I did great with the specialty journals, but not great with the general law reviews, where the students probably would have liked more background material. Next time I may submit a separate 10-20 page "reader's manual" for students who might find the topic intriguing but don't have sufficient background knowledge to assess whether it's a significant contribution to the literature.
4.21.2005 2:51am
AUTHOR: I very concsciously kept the word count under 30,000 when submitting the piece. Now that it's in the editing process, I can already see that it's going to end up several thousand words longer, both because of requests to elaborate on certain arguments and to provide additional sourcing.
4.21.2005 10:53am
Current Articles Editor:
EDITOR: We did not sign the new policy, but the average length of articles submitted to our journal has noticeably decreased, and a significant percentage of cover letters flag compliance with the policy (they also tend to say something like "I realize you are among the schools to sign on to the joint statement urging shorter submissions." No we aren't.)

We have tended to publish shorter articles, primarily because the average length of submitted articles are shorter. I had reservations about the joint statement when it was issued, and I think the early data seems to bear out my concerns. There's no question that a tightly written, shorter article is better than a version of the same article that is more verbose and contains unnecessary information. The former is easier to read, and lets us publish more articles per volume. However, I don't think the policy creates tightly written articles:

First, we get a lot of submissions that are just a handful of words under the limit. If an author struggled hard to get 8 words under the limit, I suspect a lot he or she is going to add that information back in during editing.

Second, authors don't seem to be streamlining their pieces. They are cutting solely for the sake of shortness. One very good author submitted two versions of an article. One proposed his new theory. The other both proposed the new theory and applied it. I'm not sure why we would have refused to publish a well-written application of his theory solely in the name of length. The goal of the policy is tighter pieces, not redacting scholarship.

Third, the policy still doesn't address the role law review editors have in making articles longer. I'd be interested to see whether law reviews with reputations for insisting on parenthetical for nearly every footnote, definitions of even basic terms, etc. start backing off of these demands.
4.21.2005 11:27am
Author (mail):

I figured that I had worked long enough on my article, and I was not going to trim it to about ½ its size to accommodate a few 3Ls who would judge it based on who I am (or am not). Sure enough, it got picked up by a 4th tier, which is probably better than having to discard quite a bit of original research.

I had a shorter article get picked up by a 1st tier. It wasn’t as good, but law students can’t tell the difference.
4.21.2005 12:37pm
The word limits changed just before I started writing my piece, so I carefully crafted it to be around 50 pages. We'll see what happens in the editing process, though. It's already pretty heavily footnoted, but from my previous experiences I'm sure the requested additional footnotes will balloon the word count substantially.
4.21.2005 12:59pm
Author: Mine ended at about 16K words, but then again, when I wrote I know that I conciously chose to keep some of the background to a minimum and get to the point. Too many articles take way too long to get there.
4.21.2005 6:00pm
Law professor at top ten school:
AUTHOR - I submitted a 17,000 word piece. I intended it to be on the short side even before the new length policy, but had it not been for the new policy, I would have worked to expand it, though frankly I think it would have gotten longer without actually getting better. It was accepted by a top tier journal. I think we will see a more striking pattern next August/September: the new length policy caught many authors by surprise this time around, and I know people who, having worked for six months on a hundred page peice, just shrugged and submitted it anyway, hoping for some flexibility since the policy is so new. Most of those people would have written shorter pieces in thie first place had they known it was an option! An informal poll of my colleagues suggests huge support for the new length policy.
4.22.2005 11:35am