Will A Question Mark in Your Law Review Article Title Get It Published?

A lot of cyberbuzz is stirring today about an article written in The Guardian regarding the format of academic journal article titles and whether or not certain punctuation leads to more downloads and citations of the writing (read here and here).

A recent study shows that the titles of academic papers do, in fact, impact their rate of citation and download.

There are three major findings to the study, published in Scientometrics:

  • Articles with question marks in the titles tended to be downloaded more but cited less.
  • Articles with longer titles were downloaded slightly less than the articles with shorter titles.
  • Article with long titles containing a colon had fewer downloads and fewer citations.   

A lawyer can certainly extrapolate reasons for why these conclusions may hold true. For example, articles with question marks in the titles may be more provocative, leading to more downloads. But, perhaps articles with question marks in the title are also more editorial in nature, leading to less citation.

Lincoln Was Self-Taught . . . So Why Go To Law School?” is an interesting title leading to a controversial article of limited scientific fact, for example.

In addition, article titles that are more succinct reveal their subject matter more readily, thus appeal to inquiring minds. So, it is understandable that articles with shorter titles would be downloaded at higher rates.

While the study certainly sheds light on strategies to increase the readership of an attorney’s academic writing, lawyers looking to publish work in Law Reviews or similar legal journals should read another message between the printed lines.

Successful legal writers have done significant legal reading.

That is to say, if you want to be an expert at a task—whether that be research, analysis, or writing—it’s vital to put in the time and practice.

So, renew that subscription to the Administrative Law Review or even the ABA Journal. These publications are essential for a continued, comprehensive knowledge of your practice area. But, also, these academic sources (and their over-punctuated titles) mark the first step toward publishing pertinent research of your own.

The best way to have an article published, read, and cited, is to have 10,000-hours of expertise and to be familiar with the competition.

-WB

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