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Monday, July 24, 2006

Article Length Limits: Some Early Results

In early 2005, eleven of the top law reviews issued a "Joint statement regarding articles length."  The statement acknowledged a consensus among academics that law review articles had gotten too long.  The eleven reviews thus announced a new direction in their editorial policies:

The vast majority of law review articles can effectively convey their arguments within the range of 40-70 law review pages, and any impression that law reviews only publish or strongly prefer lengthier articles should be dispelled.

After the reviews issued this policy statement, many of them adopted formal policies about preferences or hard limitations on article length, based on pages or word count.  (The MacMillan Law Library at Emory has helpfully composed a list of such policies.)

I've recently blogged about the effects of the new limits.  In particular, I wondered, like others, what effects the new policy would actually have on article length.  I received some helpful feedback from editors about how the policies are actually put into practice.  As a follow-up, I decided to do a study of the articles published after the new policy statement went into effect, as compared with the articles published right before it.  Did the new policy actually have the effect of reducing article length?

The initial answer appears to be a resounding yes.  I chose seven law reviews that signed on to the joint statement -- Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Stanford, Texas, Virginia, and Yale.  I looked at 230 articles published in these reviews from 2003 to 2006, and I compared those published after the policy to those published in the two editorial cycles before it.  Here are some findings:

  • For those articles published in the 2005-2006 editorial season, the average length was 67.13 pages.  The median article was 67 pages long.  In contrast, those articles published during the 2004-2005 and 2003-2004 seasons averaged 87.76 pages.  The median article was 84 pages long. 
  • Of the 71 articles published in 2005-2006, only four were over 100 pages (5.6%).  None exceeded 108 pages.  Of the 130 articles published from 2003-2005, thirty-four were over 100 pages (26%).  The longest was 218 pages, and twenty-four of the articles exceeded 110 pages.
  • Three of the seven reviews -- Columbia, Harvard, and Virginia -- did not publish an article over 80 pages long thus far in the 2005-2006 season.

These results clearly indicate a dramatic change in the length of articles published by these top reviews.  Articles have lost an average of twenty pages.  Perhaps these results will serve as a catalyst for further discussion about how page limits are enforced, and what effects these changes have had on authors.

Results for each law review, and a note on methodology, after the jump.

UPDATE: I've added in the number of articles and the range for each review below.

Here are the averages for each review:

Columbia Law Review

  • Average length, 2006: 64.66.
  • [9 articles, ranging from 42 to 79 pages]
  • Average length, 2003-2005: 85.36.
  • [39 articles, ranging from 49 to 157 pages]

Harvard Law Review

  • Average length, 2005-2006: 60.23.
  • [13 articles, ranging from 36 to 76 pages]
  • Average length, 2004-2005: 87.
  • [13 articles, ranging from 53 to 134 pages]

University of Pennsylvania Law Review

  • Average length, 2005-2006: 76.2.
  • [10 articles, ranging from 62 to 93 pages]
  • Average length, 2003-2005: 101.5.
  • [17 articles, ranging from 52 to 218 pages]

Stanford Law Review

  • Average length, 2005-2006: 60.
  • [12 articles, ranging from 30 to 108 pages]
  • Average length, 2003-2005: 89.4.
  • [20 articles, ranging from 34 to 146 pages]

Texas Law Review

  • Average length, 2005-2006: 66.25.
  • [8 articles, ranging from 46 to 85 pages]
  • Average length, 2003-2005: 81.88.
  • [24 articles, ranging from 32 to 166 pages]

Virginia Law Review

  • Average length, 2006: 61.85.
  • [7 articles, ranging from 45 to 73 pages]
  • Average length, 2004-2005: 84.82.
  • [28 articles, ranging from 48 to 168 pages]

Yale Law Journal

  • Average length, 2005-2006: 79.66.
  • [12 articles, ranging from 57 to 107 pages]
  • Average length, 2003-2005: 81.16.
  • [18 articles, ranging from 62 to 108 pages]

A note on methodology: I conducted this study by looking at materials for each review on the Internet.  These seven reviews were chosen out of the eleven statement signatories because of their web resources.  I looked only at articles, not essays or book reviews.  I excluded articles that were labeled as responses or replies to other articles published by that review.  I measured an article's length by either looking at .pdf files available through the law review's site or by looking at the table of contents.  When using the table of contents, I measured the article as ending at the page prior to the beginning of the next article.  Since articles may not end on the page before the following article, I may have overestimated the length of those articles by one or two pages.  Article appendices were not excluded.  Finally, regarding the date of the law reviews, five of the seven reviews date their volumes by academic year (e.g., 2005-2006).  Two of the reviews -- Columbia and Virginia -- date their volumes by calendar year.  For these two reviews, I counted 2005 as a "transitional" year.  I excluded these transitional articles from the group calculations about the policy's effects.  I am happy to share my data with anyone who is interested in it.

Posted by Matt Bodie on July 24, 2006 at 08:05 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Looks like Yale is the only journal ignoring the new limits. They are classic free-riders. They are benefiting from the other journals sticking by the policy, while snapping up the longer articles that they like. There was substantial anecdotal evidence of this -- I've heard through the journal grapevine that Yale took an extremely long article for the next cycle for no particularly compelling reason -- and I guess we know now that it's true.

I'm on another articles committee at one of the other journals listed above, and we do intend to stick by our policies.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 25, 2006 10:14:46 AM

I second Micah's request above. When I first heard about word limits, my reaction was: will we end up with a separating or pooling equilibrium? That is, will some journals end up specializing in long articles (and get a loyal group of authors writing only for them), while others will specialize in short (and get a group of loyal authors of their own)? Or will everyone start writing short, to maximize the pool of journals where an article may land? The data on the changes in journals that didn't introduce word limits might answer this.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Jul 24, 2006 8:06:19 PM

Since you undoubtedly compiled this data (it's necessary to calculate the median), would you please supplement the mean and median with sample size (n), minimum, and maximum for each journal? When I worked at an academic publisher (in both legal and editorial capacities), the variability of length was as much a consideration for contributed-chapter books as was the mean or the median, and it would be really interesting to see what proportion of articles were bumping against the "limit".

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jul 24, 2006 11:52:39 AM

For better or for worse, I'm the author of one of the over 100 page articles in Matt's survey (depending on how Matt counted, I might be the owner of the single longest one). I got caught in the middle of a project that couldn't effectively be chopped into two and took my chances with an over-long submission. I thought folks would like to know about my experience trying to shop a piece well over the limit--some of the top law reviews wouldn't even look at it and a few others told me they liked it and might/would publish it but were going to have to (in the words of one editor) "take a machete to the footnotes." On the other hand, more than a few schools all the way up the food chain told me that they judged every article's length on its own terms and thought that they were getting some very good articles that they wouldn't have gotten previously because of the "arbitrary" rules of some of the better-ranked journals. It is quite clear to me both from anecdotal evidence and Matt's data that it is much better to be under the limit, but there is still some hope if you can't or won't edit your work down.

Posted by: Andrew Siegel | Jul 24, 2006 10:47:31 AM

Thanks for posting this data. It would be interesting to compare the numbers at journals that didn't join the short-articles policy (e.g., Chicago, Northwestern, NYU, Southern Cal), although the Emory list indicates that even some of those schools are now expressing a preference for articles under 35k words (NYU, Northwestern).

Posted by: micah | Jul 24, 2006 10:35:07 AM

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