How Many Rounds of Edits Are Best, and What Kinds, for Law Review Publications?

The process of publishing a law review article usually involves rounds of edits.   After the article is accepted, the author will submit the article to begin the editing process.  The journal will suggest changes; the author will respond; the journal will suggest more changes; the author will respond, etc.   Journal editors and authors alike sometimes wonder, what’s the best number and type of rounds of edits?   This is a particularly tricky question for student editors because normally they are only on their journal for two years.  Editors  learn all about the process and then graduate, leaving them less able to reform practices based on their experience.

Here’s my take.   In an ideal world, there could be different procedures for different articles and different authors.  But if a one-size-fits-all answer is needed, I think the best approach is to have two-and-a-half rounds of edits.    The first round should be the big-picture round.  The journal should suggest changes or improvements to the overall argument, flow, and organization of the article.   The author should then respond, making changes as necessary.  The second round should be the detail round.  The journal should suggest changes or improvements to specific sentences, words, and citations.  The author should then respond.   Finally, I think it’s helpful for the journal to send the author one last quick round as a courtesy just to help look for typos, wrong words, and other objective errors (the last “half” round, as this can be pretty quick).

Some journals do this, and I think it works quite well.  One of the keys is to have clear roles for each rounds of editing.  Sometimes journals don’t have clear roles for different rounds.  Sometimes you’ll just get back-and-forth process that covers the same ground as prior rounds.  I think this tends to create more work than is necessary, at only marginal benefit.  In my view, the better approach is to dedicate individual rounds of edits to different aspects of the article.  That way, once a round is over, that part of the article is settled.

Perhaps the extreme example of the back-and-forth process is the editorial process followed by the Harvard Law Review, at least when I published with them in 2005.  The HLR is the most prestigious law review, and if you’re lucky enough to get an offer from them, you take it.  But in my experience, the editorial process was completely unlike the process at any other journal.  The HLR editors were super smart and worked incredibly hard.  But there were six or seven rounds of edits, each quite free ranging in subject and scope, as different editors had a crack at the piece.  I was totally exhausted by the end, and there was a lot of wasted effort in the process.  By the later rounds, the editors were suggesting changes to changes made by prior editors that themselves had altered changes made by even earlier editors.  The edits led to a nicely polished article, and I was happy with it.   At the same time, I remember thinking that I could have written an entirely new article just in the time I spend working on the edits to that one.

Anyway, as I said, there is no one perfect way to structure rounds of editing.  Different approaches will work better for different authors and different articles.  But I’ve personally found the two-and-a-half rounds approach described above works best.

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