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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Digital Fix to Alleviate Some Angsting Stress?

If the number of comments a thread receives is any proxy for interest in a subject, the Prawfsblawg angsting thread has to be one of the most popular semi-annual traditions.  I will confess to occasionally checking it, although it rarely provides comfort during submission season.  The general theme is usually one of impotent ignorance — of having no idea what is happening or the odds of a successful placement.  

I completely understand the angsting phenomenon and spent some time this Spring thinking about how better information flows might make the process less stressful.  It occurs to me that the potential of digital platforms like Scholastica could ease some of the angsting stress by providing more information about the decision-making process of the journals.  

As an author, here are the pieces of information I would like to have during the submissions season: (1) has my article been downloaded/read; (2) how many slots are open in the journal; (3) is my article still under consideration for acceptance.  Those three questions tend to line up with the three main causes of submissions stress: silence, strategic expediting, and rejection.


First as to silence:  law professors spend a year writing an article and then send if off to silence.  No acceptances, no rejections, no communication.  Sometimes weeks pass making one question whether Scholastica is working before responses trickle in.  This is stressful because as an author you do not know what silence means.  Does it mean that your article has been read but rejected?  That the abstract has been skimmed? Or have you simply been ignored.  Being ignored is a fair concern because there is no way for editors to read every submission.  So if there were a way to know that your article had not even been read, you would at least not be waiting for the chance that some top tier journal was going to contact you.

The strategic expediting game is horrible for everyone.  Law review editors spend thousands of collective hours reading articles only to lose out to some other higher ranked journal.  Some journals are known screeners, making their efforts valuable and super frustrating.  I spoke to editors at one top 30 law school that well into March had lost 12 out of 13 articles to higher ranked journals.  The articles editors were rightly frustrated.  The game is also frustrating for authors who expedite, but do not know the odds of placement because they do not know how many open slots exist in any particular journal.  For example, in my last week in the process this year I had a great offer, but open expedites to six higher ranked journals.  It would have been very helpful to know if those journals had many slots to fill or just one or two.   One could calculate their odds a bit than with the current system where one doesn’t know anything.

Finally there is rejection.  Rejection sucks and makes February and March a miserable time to be around me as I obsessively check my email.  There are two types of rejection for an author.  The direct kind (“thank you for your submission, but…”) and the indirect-silent kind of rejection.  As painful as it is I think journals should be encouraged to reject more and do it quicker.  Rejection offers transparency that helps be strategic about the final choices.  I wish more articles editors would simply reject, rather than wait which only amplifies the silence problem.

So here is my unsolicited suggestion to digital platforms like Scholastica.  Add in features for journals to inform authors when their piece has been downloaded/read, and allow journals to update the number of slots left in their journal.  Neither suggestion would be technically that difficult.  For law review editors, having an automated prompt report back to the author that the article has been downloaded (and hopefully read) would provide some information about the likelihood that an article might be reviewed.  It would sort of be like the prompts you get when someone reads your LinkedIn page.  Similarly, having a dashboard feature where journals could show the number of slots available (or even a percentage of open slots) would give authors context about the real odds of acceptance.  Neither solution will solve the underlying problem of the rushed and crazy process, but more information is better than less.

Are there other innovations you would want to see from the platforms?  Other pieces of information that would make your submissions season less stressful?  

Are there pieces of information that law review editors would like to know? 

What other types of information sharing would be helpful? 

The thread is open.

Posted by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson on April 20, 2018 at 11:14 AM | Permalink


I bet there would be resistance from law reviews, because what you describe would reveal that submissions from professors/fellows at top schools are read quickly, while submissions from people at lower ranked schools are often ignored.

I submitted on Feb 10th this cycle and still had many journals fill up before they had a chance to read my article. I actually had one journal say that to me about 2 weeks ago. You guess it, I am at an unranked school, and I am not bitter about this process at all.

The only information change I would like to see is less information going to the journals. Like everyone else in academia, we should have blind submissions and authors should be required to accept when they get an offer.

Posted by: anon | Apr 23, 2018 11:04:45 AM

Great ideas, but Scholastica has little incentive to implement these changes, because greater transparency would likely reduce submissions. As it stands, the lack of transparency means that authors have incentive to submit as widely as possible, thereby generating maximum fees for Scholastica.

But the knowledge that a journal has already filled most of its slots would likely reduce submissions from cost-conscious authors submitting later in the cycle. Likewise, learning that certain schools have not downloaded or read submissions would also deter current and future submissions--especially if the information is shared on Prawfs. If journals eventually develop reputations for not reading submissions (just as some schools today have reputations for being perennial non-responders), this might also drive down submissions from cost conscious authors.

So, while I like these ideas, we probably need to fix Scholastica's incentives before we can expect them to help fix the process.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 20, 2018 1:32:23 PM

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