Question to Current or Recent Law Review Articles Editors:

Someone asked me -- when one circulates an article to law reviews, is it helpful to include a short abstract at the start, or should you let the Introduction do the talking (perhaps with a few things said in the cover letter that aren't as easy to say in the Introduction, such as how hot and novel the proposal is)?

I'd love to hear your views, if you now are or have recently been a law review articles editor. Thanks!

Waldensian (mail):
I can't even remember if I was an articles editor or not (1989-91) but I sure reviewed a lot of incoming submissions, and a short abstract would have been a welcome change.
1.10.2007 5:26pm
TRex (mail):
I guess it would depend on the volume of submissions received. Having been an editor 20 years ago for a smaller law review, we'd take the time to read every submission unless we determined after the first few pages it was not acceptable. You may receive so many submissions at more widely read schools whereby an impressive abstract is necessary to get from the bottom of the pile.
1.10.2007 5:27pm
erics (mail):
Can't hurt. But the editors still need to read a few pages to make sure the author is a decent writer.
1.10.2007 6:05pm
I don't see a downside. That said, my personal practice was to proceed directly to the introduction on a first read.
1.10.2007 6:14pm
A Northwestern Law Student:
I am an (outgoing) articles editor. To me, a *short* abstract is fine. Too many authors, it seems, make the mistake of trying to say too much in the abstract, or of making the abstract one very long, single-spaced paragraph. I also don't suggest using the abstract to say how "hot and novel" a topic is. Everybody makes that claim, or says that their article "fills a gap" in the existing literature; I tended to get more skeptical the more these claims were trumpeted. By and large, I would say I was generally inclined to skip an abstract and turn straight to the Conclusion section (not the Introduction). As one final suggestion, you might get more mileage out of an abstract by retitling it a "Synopsis," which, to me, is a much less forbidding word.
1.10.2007 6:21pm
Chris Fulmer:
I didn't care if it was called an 'abstract' or an 'introduction' -- a shorty meaty blurb toward the front is necessary. It should not be contained in a separate letter, as the letter and the article are often separated. It is fine to insert the letter at the beginning of the document, since the whole thing is going to get reformatted anyway.

Think about who the first reader is: typically, it's a late 2nd- or early-3rd year law student who wishes he hadn't signed up for law review because of all the work. Your submission needs to be able to quickly grab that person's attention.
1.10.2007 6:22pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
Quite a few journals appear to now be requiring an abstract, so it would seem best to provide one unless the submission guidelines actually say one isn't necessary.
1.10.2007 7:29pm
I was recently an Articles Editor at a top-10 law review. I have two comments: (1) The cover letter should say little more than "Here's my article. Hope you enjoy." The more you say about how great your article is, the less credible you sound. The only thing conceivably worth mentioning in the cover letter (which often isn't read) is where you've had other articles published. (2) Your reader will appreciate a good abstract or synopsis.
1.10.2007 7:37pm
Pub Editor (mail):
I'm currently Publications Editor, but I know my Review's Articles Editors well and can attest that they greatly appreciate a short, informative abstract. I don't see a downside.
1.10.2007 7:43pm
I am pro-abstract. Make it short but sweet, but definitely include it.
1.10.2007 8:51pm
James Dillon (mail):
This is a helpful discussion, and in the event that I ever get around to finishing either of the half-written articles currently sitting in a dusty corner of my hard drive, I'd like to ask a follow-up question. Since the consensus seems to be that an abstract is helpful, in what ways should a good abstract differ from the article's introduction? Should I just paste or paraphrase my introduction in a new document, and call it an abstract? Or is the purpose of an abstract somehow different?
1.10.2007 9:22pm
How should abstract differ from intro?

Ditch all of that fluff that people put in front of their articles, before they get to the point.

Don't say "Part I will do X; Part II will do Y."

Think of it like a Summary of the Argument in a brief. Set forth, in as few words as possible, the primary claim your article makes, and the basic structure of thought supporting that claim. Keep it assertive, straightforward and focused. A good abstract shouldn't need to be more than a paragraph for a 70 page article (think of using about one or two sentences per section, tops).

Avoid the temptation to use an overlong, SSRN-style abstract. We don't want to read all that. This is a tool we use to assign pieces to first-readers, and to get a sense of where your piece might fit into an issue (if we are already publishing three first amendment articles, we might shy away from more of the same, even if your piece is great).

Do this right, and you make a great impression. We try very hard to focus solely on content, but it would be a lie to say we don't think fondly of authors who make it easy on us.
1.10.2007 10:38pm
Ross Hammersley (mail) (www):
As a former editor-in-chief, I personally found that more focused abstracts often provided a clearer window into where the author actually intended to go with a piece than did his or her introduction. While the language of one's introduction can certainly make for compelling prose and can entice the average reader to stick around for the main course, an abstract should provide insight into the real meat-and-potatoes portions of the legal argument in order to truly assist the editors reading and evaluating the piece.

Simply restating the introduction with a reduction in verbiage would be less helpful than giving a brief summary of the topic and the main legal arguments to be addressed. Good articles editors will always be able to pick those things out of your introduction anyway, but they will definitely appreciate any efforts on your behalf to make what is likely the umpteenth article they read in a weekend more easily digested.
1.10.2007 11:03pm
As a recent articles editor at a top-20 law review, I preferred the following: (1) a cover letter in which the first paragraph was a one-sentence paragraph with the article title in italics, the second paragraph briefly summarized the article, and the third paragraph made any necessary statements about contacting the author or similar information; (2) a cv (I realize this is controversial, but important to place the submission in the broader context of the author's scholarship and something we found online even if not submitted directly); (3) a copy of the article formatted as it might appear in the law review with a short substantive abstract before the introduction. Submissions that had all of these qualities demonstrated that the author had actually given some thought toward making the sure that the reviewer had all information necessary to decide whether to make an offer on their article.
1.10.2007 11:06pm
Greedy Slacker:
(Recent AE at top-10ish law review.)

What Carter said.
1.10.2007 11:24pm
~spad (mail):
I am an outgoing current articles editor and I would frequently read the articles without abstracts last . . . this was not to an author's benefit. But some authors simply cut and paste some part of their introduction without making the thesis clear - also a mistake. I suggest a very clear thesis statement with a few major subpoints in under 4-5 sentences and no fluff. If that is an abstract, then abstracts are your friend.

Also my Law Review had no stated preference this year but I can tell you that we had made more than enough offers to publish before we opened any paper only submissions . . . [electronic submissions post]
1.11.2007 10:10am
CLR Alum:
My two cents...

Abstract: Yes

Puffy cover letter: No

Put the title and subject of the submission in the cover letter, with a bare bones explanation of the topic if you think the AEs will need it. Obviously your school and previous publications are also useful. Let me stress: Puffing in the cover letter is a turn off. We may be snot-nosed law students, but we can pick up on the current relevance of your piece about the implications of Saenz v. Roe on RV parks.

Also, when a professor is visiting for a year at a prestigious institution, I would advise them not to use that institution's letterhead for their cover letter. AEs typically check out your bio, and you don't want them to think you're trying to pull one over on them. Plus it's just bad form to dis your home institution like that.
1.11.2007 12:18pm
txjeansguy (mail):
Former Submissions Editor at a large student-run IP journal here, in agreement with marghlar, Ross, and Carter. An introduction provides historical context and other material that a subscriber might enjoy once he's decided to leisurely read the article; an abstract tells me the take-away of the article and makes me want to read it. You might think in terms of fully describing your article in conversation while avoiding that glazed-over look.

I received ~50-60 submissions over the year, often 80+ pages each (before Harvard cracked the whip on long articles), and short statements definitely gets an article reviewed more quickly. Keep in mind that submission reviewers are usually third-year students who often have clinics, moot/mock, etc. in addition to their law review/journal duties.

Timing is an issue because if you're at the bottom of the list to be reviewed (with a long article with no concise statement), you may get an offer from a lower-tier journal but the article probably won't engender the bidding war you want to happen between publications; you may accept from the lower-tier journal and then get an offer from the prestigious publication you really wanted.

Also, an abstract can be made error-proof, which no article is; as a submissions editor I always thought about how much re-writing the staff would have to do to get an article in shape for publication.
1.11.2007 2:09pm
former editor in charge of submissions (mail):
An abstract is helpful. It is extremely helpful, obviously, when the journal is going to incorporate an abstract anyway if the article is published. Some of the seeming thousands of submissions we received would benefit from attempting to write an abstract to figure out what the heck they are trying to say.

The letter is a great place for the author to address why the article is worthy of note for reasons that are not appropriate for an abstract. For example, to take one example I remember, one smart commentator on antitrust from the corporate world had not only published very frequently, but his articles were very frequently cited in published decisions. This kind of stuff is obviously not conveyed in an abstract.

I'm not sure why including a CV would be controversial, as a prior post states. I suppose a case might be made as well for making submissions somehow blind, without the author's name or affiliation attached. I'm sure it's nice in Utopia, but I haven't been there.
1.11.2007 2:36pm