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Monday, June 26, 2006

Law Review Article Introductions?

Something I've been pondering, or struggling with, while polishing off a draft of a new law review article....  How do you view the "introduction" section of your article -- mainly as a preview, or a summary of all your major points, or as review/background on the issue you're writing about?  And what page length (or word count, whatever) do you use as a guide?  I find that even though not all of my articles run long, all of my introductions do, and I suspect that I'm trying to do too much -- give background on the issue, review other writing in the field, and summarize all my arguments.  Given that law review editors often have little time to read more than the intro, however, I feel pressure to include all that stuff, or else the article may get rejected before I can explain any of it.  Thoughts, especially for those of you writing something this summer -- or, especially, for law review editors (past or present) on what you like or don't like in intro sections???

Posted by Scott on June 26, 2006 at 02:42 PM in Legal Theory | Permalink


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The introduction should clearly lay out a roadmap for the rest of the article. If a topic is complex, I will refer to the intruduction for guidance. There shouldn't be any major surprises in the article, but the introduction isn't the place to present detailed arguments, either.

That said, the introduction should usually be brief. 3-5 double-spaced pages max. Personally, the length of the introduction isn't a deal breaker provided it's not so long that it eats into the arguments and analysis in the main part of the article. I read an article as a whole; if it works, it works. I wouldn't automatically reject an article because the intro is only one page or is more than five pages long. As long as the intro is long enough to lay out a roadmap for the rest of the article, it is sufficient.

Posted by: Anon Editor | Jul 5, 2006 10:16:22 PM

For what it's worth, cover letters are almost entirely useless when submitting to Yale. Because of the way we read submissions (blindly), the cover letter will be one of the last things read, if we read it at all. Journals that don't take anonymous submissions seriously presumably handle things differently, though.

Posted by: YLJ Articles Editor | Jun 27, 2006 9:41:05 AM

On the background issue, I really like what law librarians do: basically annotated bibliographies. I think that's what law review articles should do instead of the cumbersome and distracting footnotes. The reason so many of these papers are so interminable and poor are that they try to do too many things at once--demonstrate fluency with a subject matter, give resources for other scholars, make a compelling new argument, and add interesting asides--you have to do all of them but you can't do all of them at once.

The introduction should really consist of a snappy episode/anecdote or analytic point that really grabs the reader's interest, followed by a brief part I, part II, with explanation. If you can't summarize in a few sentences what each part of your paper should say, you need to rewrite it.

Lastly, I'm surprised that these posts don't get five hundred responses. Turning the tables of professors and giving their papers a brisk fifteen minute evaluation after all those checkmarked and excel spreadsheeted and questionably but authoritively methodologized exam grading techniques. Pure heaven.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Jun 27, 2006 1:21:20 AM

Abstracts can be helpful if the introduction is on the long-side, but I never really found them any more helpful than a well-written introduction, even if the introduction is longish. The ideal introduction (assuming the paper was fairly complicated or the topic was complex) would give a nutshell summary of the argument, and would then follow the nutshell with a slightly fuller recitation. Adding an abstract to an already longer introduction could create some of the time problems the other commenters (commentators?) alluded to.

In the end, what really mattered for me was that the introduction told me as clearly and as neatly as possible what the author was arguing, what the basis for the author's argument was, and why the article mattered. Once you do that and your article is still of interest, the reviewer will read the argument sections of your paper to get a fuller recitation.

Another good idea, and something I'd forgotten until now, was the value of a cover letter. Cover letters were often really helpful in perhaps doing the same thing as you want to accomplish in the abstract, thus allowing the introduction to go more in-depth.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 26, 2006 5:02:41 PM

This is all verrrry interesting. I'm glad to see the first comment -- that we should do less "here's 45 pages of backgroud!" -- given that many profs grumble, "I hate how we have to do that for law review editors!"

Question: how about a one-page (say, 400 words) abstract followed by a long-ish intro? In that case, does the brevity of the abstract serve as the neceessary "nutshell," allowing the intro to give a fuller recitation of the paper's argument?

Posted by: Scott Moss | Jun 26, 2006 4:17:27 PM

Also, I would say that up to five double-spaced pages would be fine. I always had, or found, enough time to give each article that made it to my desk at least that much consideration (even though most usually got a read of the intro, conclusion, and main argument sections). The initial reviewers would be able to give a serious, concerted read to that length as well. Of course, the more clearly and concisely written, the better--the intro should stick only to what needs to be there to give a clear picture of your article and argument.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 26, 2006 3:32:30 PM

As a now-former law review EIC, the introduction and conclusion sections were the most important parts of my evaluation. I found the introductions sections to be most useful when they did three things: 1) gave an abstract of your article by providing a clear statement of your thesis and the arguments that support your argument, 2) briefly frames the importance of your article among the existing scholarship, and 3) lays out the organizational structure of your article (mostly because a vast majority of article submissions include entirely too much background, and its nice to know where to go for the real heart of your article). Hope that helps!

Posted by: Anon | Jun 26, 2006 3:23:00 PM

Law Journal editors are more likely to read past your introduction the shorter it is. And you'd rather we read past it, because the short-formed and caricatured versions of your argument in the introduction will almost always be less publishable than the actual paper. A paragraph to a page is ideal.

Posted by: YLJ Articles Editor | Jun 26, 2006 3:19:58 PM

Law review editors hate when articles spend 45 pages stating background and 5 pages stating the new argument, so using the intro to state a summary of the new argument seems best to me.

Posted by: law rev editor last year | Jun 26, 2006 3:18:21 PM

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