Publishing in law reviews presents the opportunity to contribute scholarship to the legal community with the capacity to impact the research of other scholars and ultimately the way the law is interpreted. In most cases, the impact a law review article will have is dependent upon the number of people who not only read it but also choose to cite it in their own work. Of course, manuscripts worthy of publication and with the power to conceivably move the law must begin with a relevant topic and be written in a clear and compelling way. Beyond how well a manuscript is written though, for many authors without a history of being cited in their field the impact their article will have can often seem to be a matter of luck.
Serendipity aside, are there any steps that legal authors can take prior to being published to improve their chances of citation?
In a recent article published on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), professors Lee Petherbridge at Loyola Law School and Christopher A. Cotropia at the University of Richmond School of Law explored the benefits of including abstracts and tables of contents in articles as two possible ways for authors to improve their chances of citation. We took a look at Petherbridge and Cotropa’s findings along with some other opportunities for authors to increase the likelihood of their articles being cited. Here are some potential ways to proactively improve your law review article citation rate:
1. Include an Abstract and Table of Contents
In an article uploaded to SSRN in August 2014 entitled “Should Your Law Review Article Have an Abstract and Table of Contents?” Petherbridge and Cotropia analyzed the impact of both article elements on citations in a study encompassing articles published in top 100 law reviews. What the authors found is that both components do in fact make a significant difference. The authors wrote that “compared to articles that use neither document element, articles that include just an abstract are cited on average roughly 50% more, and articles that include just a table of contents roughly 30% more. Including both document elements corresponds to the largest increase in citation, over 70%.” That’s a pretty substantial improvement!
Petherbridge and Cotropia argue that the reason abstracts and tables of contents make a difference in article citation rates is because the presence of either or both reduces “cognitive burdens researchers experience when performing research tasks.” The authors point out that compared to other fields it is less customary in legal writing for all articles to include either or both an abstract and table of contents. These are two elements that you may want to consider including in your next paper to make it easier for readers to process, remember, and apply to future work.
2. Present a Working Paper
Another way that authors can potentially improve the chances of their articles being cited is by making them available to viewers prior to publication, either in a published draft or via a conference presentation. Petherbridge and Cotropia’s article arguably proves this point, as they published it as a draft to SSRN, which legal scholars then found and were able to discuss online, including The Faculty Lounge blog.
Of course, authors may have some concerns about making their work visible prior to publication, particularly for manuscripts that are a work in progress. But, for those prepared to put themselves out there it can be a great way to get researchers talking about your latest work.
If you’d like to try publishing a draft of your paper, a 2011 American Bar Foundation guide offers background on using SSRN and instructions for uploading articles to the platform.
3. Before Submitting Take a Second Look at Your Title and Abstract
As modern scholars continue to increasingly rely on search engines to do the bulk of their research, another way authors can increase the chances of their articles being cited is by making sure they are highly searchable. In order for an article to show up in a search it must contain keywords and key phrases that researchers are likely to type into their search bar.
Before you submit your next paper take a look at the title. The more concrete and direct your title choice, the more likely it will be to come up in keyword or key phrase searches. The same goes for your article’s abstract. If you have an abstract that includes words and phrases people are likely to type into a search engine, it will be more discoverable online. That said, there’s no reason to start adding keywords or phrases to your article title or abstract just for the sake of improving search results. As a rule of thumb, write about your topic as you would normally. Just be sure to avoid overly winding language or the usage of standalone puns or plays on words in your title, which can cause articles to show up lower in a search.
4. Become Known in the Legal Community Prior to Being Cited
A final option for improving your odds of article citations is getting your name out into the legal sphere both online and in person. Attending events, having an active social media presence, and starting or contributing to existing legal blogs are all powerful ways to bring your work to other legal scholars’ attention and to become known as an active member of the community. The more developed your in-person and online networks, the easier it will be for you to quickly share your latest work with a wide audience and generate a readership.