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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Short is the New Long

The law review article title is infamous for being lengthy, unwieldy, and over-colonated.  But recently, it's been cool to try to buck that trend -- as severely as possible.  Some recent examples:

The new "micro-title" has the benefits of a classic spareness: clean, simple, even elegant.  Like the new school of Alice Waters-inspired chefs, these authors focus on the basic ingredients, shunning a more ostentatious approach.  There is a stark beauty to the micro-title, as well as a finality: this is the paper about the subject at hand.

But there may be costs to the micro-title as well.  The traditional bulky title does convey a fair amount of information.  It is more amenable to database searches by title.  And there is a limit on the number of micro-titles out there.  Once a micro-title has been taken, it would definitely be uncool for someone else to use it.

Is the micro-title a new trend in legal scholarship?  And what does it mean for legal scholarship?

Posted by Matt Bodie on June 27, 2006 at 12:31 PM in Article Spotlight | Permalink


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This discussion reminds me of a brief a colleague once wrote in which she stated as background several legal elementary propositions and rules and cited them as, See generally, The Law.

Posted by: Paul Landskroener | Jun 28, 2006 4:22:22 PM


It has been done:

Jules L. Coleman and Ori Simchen
Legal Theory, Volume 9, Issue 01, March 2003, pp 1-41
doi: 10.1017/S1352325203000016, Published online by Cambridge University Press 04 Feb 2003
Abstract Add to basket £10.00 / $15.00

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Jun 27, 2006 7:56:41 PM

A couple comments regarding Prof. Kerr's remarks: Kenji Yoshino's "Covering" appeared in YLJ in January 2002, over four years ago; and not all musicians with one word names are cool in the same respect as Madonna or Prince. I'm thinking Liberace, for instance. But what about blog titles? Why these portmanteau, hybrid, hendiadys collisions like, say, PrawfsBlawg? (Because URLs don't forgive spaces, I suppose.)

Posted by: Dean C. Rowan | Jun 27, 2006 6:09:42 PM

I'm honored to be in such good short title company. And also humanities scholarship company company. From the Northeastern Regional Faculty Conference at the Center for Region and American Life at Yale: "Aha, I thought, this is a modern up-to-the-latest style of book. There is a sexiness and aggressiveness to those one word titles."


Posted by: David Zaring | Jun 27, 2006 5:09:23 PM

I thought we reached a state of reductio with that recent article (which I first found on Leiter's site, I think) called "F**k"

Posted by: md | Jun 27, 2006 3:55:25 PM

I suspect the phenomenon will jump the shark when someone titles a piece simply "Law."

Posted by: Bruce | Jun 27, 2006 2:23:03 PM

I have long had in the back of my mind the wish to write a law-and-lit type essay on various aspects of Fritz Lang's classic film, titling it simply "M." That, I think, should stand a good chance of winning the short title sweepstakes. Haven't gotten around to it yet, but the world is now on notice: that title's *mine.*

What Matt's post, and the comments, begin to reveal is that there are a couple of aspects to the short-title phenomenon. The first is the question of database transparency. Since few people check law review tables of contents every day (alright, I do), and since most titles come to notice only through database searches, a title that gives all the basic keywords is more likely to come up during the search process. Hence the subtitle phenomenon (as in my recent "Religious Tests in the Mirror: [various words omitted]"): a short pithy title, and then every possible combination of relevant search terms. Maybe one day we can eliminate the pretense and just give our papers keyword titles; i.e., Paul Horwitz, ""Constitutional Theory" "Constitutional Law" "Supreme Court" (Tribe /s Wrong) (Horwitz /s Right or Genius or God)," 125 Harv. L. Rev. __.

The other aspect of the short-title phenomenon is that a big enough author's name is a good substitute on the search front, since one may well, in researching an area, plug in relevant search terms along with a string of authors you know are big in the field. Moreover, a big enough author may just *assume* he or she will be read no matter what a piece is titled, or at least, through workshops, SSRN, private emails, etc., be read by everyone he or she cares to be read by. I wonder then if a short title can't be a sort of signaling device: "Look, I am so damned good, and famous, sure of myself, that I'm going to call this piece 'Placeholder,' and you are *still* going to read it. Because I'm all that, yo."

Two last short observations. First, some short title pieces are still search-transparent, including three if not four of the titles cited in the main post, while others ("Givings," for instance) are not. Second, I don't think every short title is chosen for the reasons I outlined above. Sometimes the title is just too damned pithy to pass up. See, e.g., John H. Garvey, "The Pope's Submarine." (Although that one was in a symposium, which does fit my "everyone who needs to read this already has" thesis.)

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Jun 27, 2006 2:16:10 PM

Yes, short titles are very hip right now, and have been for about 2 years. The ideal is one word, which makes the article cool in the same way that musicians with one word names ("Madonna", etc.) are cool.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 27, 2006 1:42:06 PM

I think before I did "Against Mercy," I was largely inspired by some of the successful short titles that Gideon P. and Avi Bell used: e.g., Givings (YLJ); Takings Reassessed, etc. I remember one faculty person at NYU told me her title selection was motivated in part by a desire to have her article show up in the correct JLR searches in Westlaw--and that made sense to me. I suspect the microtitle will transition from a short phrase into a short question.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Jun 27, 2006 12:39:52 PM

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