Law Review Article Roadmaps Without Roadmap Paragraphs:

I've long disliked the "roadmap paragraphs" that many law reviews require you to write, usually as the last paragraph in the Introduction. Here's the one from my student article:

This Comment, in Part I, explains what speech harassment law restricts, and how it restricts it. Part II confronts the arguments, made by some courts and some commentators, that harassment law can already be justified under some of the existing First Amendment doctrines -- for example, as a time, place, or manner restriction, or a legitimate attempt to protect a captive audience -- but finds that none of the arguments has merit. Finally, Part III introduces the directed speech/undirected speech distinction, and argues that it is the most practical place to draw the line between harassing workplace speech that must be protected and harassing workplace speech that may be restricted.

Seems forced, boring, and hard to read -- yet unfortunately many roadmaps are framed pretty much the same way. (Just search for "Part I" in the same paragraph as "Part II" and "Part III" and you'll see.)

Yet I agree that having some roadmap of which part of the article will do what is useful. The key, I think, is to try to make the roadmap an integral part of the discussion, and the best way I've found is to make the Introduction itself a roadmap. Here's an example from my latest published article:

[Four hypotheticals that aim to illustrate my point omitted. -EV]

My claim is that all four cases involve the exercise of a person's presumptive right to self-defense--lethal self-defense in Katherine's case, and what I call "medical self-defense" in the others.

Part I [each part corresponds to one of the hypotheticals -EV] argues that the right to medical self-defense is supported by the long-recognized right to lethal self-defense: the right to protect your life against attack even if it means killing the attacker. The lethal self-defense right has constitutional foundations in substantive due process, in state constitutional rights to defend life and to bear arms, and perhaps in the Second Amendment. But even setting aside those constitutional roots, the right has long been recognized by statute and common law. Even if the Supreme Court stops recognizing unenumerated constitutional rights, legislatures should presumptively protect people's medical self-defense rights just as they protect people's lethal self-defense rights. While a legislature need not fund people's self-defense, it generally ought not substantially burden people's right to defend themselves.

Part II discusses one context in which medical self-defense has already been recognized: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey secure not just a previability right to abortion as reproductive choice, but also a separate postviability right to abortion as medical self-defense when pregnancy threatens a woman's life. And it can't be that a woman has a constitutional right to protect her life using medical procedures, but only when those procedures kill a viable fetus; given that Alice has a right to defend herself even when doing so means aborting a viable fetus, Ellen and Olivia should have the same right to defend themselves through other medical procedures. Alice is free to have surgery in which a doctor inserts devices into her body to excise a fetus that, tragically, threatens her life. Ellen should likewise be free to have a procedure in which a doctor inserts chemicals into her body to destroy a tumor that threatens her life. And the government should not place substantial obstacles in the way of Olivia's having a procedure in which a doctor inserts an organ into her body to replace a failing organ that threatens her life.

Parts III and IV apply the abortion-as-self-defense and lethal self-defense analogies in more detail to experimental drugs and to compensation for organs. Part III argues that the right of medical self-defense offers extra support for the Abigail Alliance panel's controversial holding. Part IV contends that the right makes the organ sales ban presumptively improper and unconstitutional as applied to organs that are needed to protect people's lives; some concerns about organ transactions may justify regulation of organ markets, but not outright prohibition of such markets.

Part IV also argues that, while this presumption of impropriety and unconstitutionality is rebuttable, it should take much to rebut it. Recognizing medical self-defense as a constitutional or moral right means the government should need a very good reason to substantially burden that right, and any restrictions that do burden it should be as narrow as possible.

In particular, while the exercise of the right to medical self-defense may be regulated in some ways--for instance, to prevent organ robbery--such regulations can and should be far less burdensome than the current total ban on organ sales is. We respect and value self-defense rights enough that we allow lethal self-defense, despite the risk that a false claim of self-defense will be used as a cloak for murder. Rather than prophylactically banning all use of lethal force, we outlaw certain uses and rely on case-by-case decisionmaking to discover and deter these improper uses. A similar approach should apply to payments for organ transplants.

Finally, the Conclusion argues that a right to medical self-defense is not only logically supportable, but also viable both in political debate and in the judicial process. Both liberal and conservative judges and voters may be open to it, and I hope that the analogies in this Essay can be used to help persuade them.

The Introduction summarizes the argument in my article, and as it summarizes what is said in each Part, it refers to that Part. My sense is that this better lays out where everything goes, and does it without a clunky roadmap paragraph that no-one enjoys reading. One can also just include the same summary but include the part number references as footnotes.

What do others think? Does the Introduction-as-roadmap work better than the roadmap paragraph? Are there still better ways of solving this problem? Or is it a false problem -- should we just abandon roadmaps altogether?

Most law review authors don't understand their topics well enough to create such concise summaries; that's why their articles are a gazillion words long. Authors need to get better at cutting the fat. Then the introduction mostly takes care of itself.

What I find most stilted is the ridiculous &content-free "Part I" "Part II" terminology. Why not just give each "Part" a descriptive title?

"In the next section, 'The Underlying Right of Lethal Self-Defense', I argue that ..." Later, when the reader reaches the section, they can read the title and have a meaningful cue as to what it's about.
6.12.2007 2:38am
What you've outlined is what I was taught as a history major in undergrad. As with the citation system, I prefer the history style--in both cases, the history one seems to have been designed by practitioners in the field who will be reading the papers thus produced and relying on them for content, while the law version seems to have been designed by people who would rather be doing something else besides reading or writing the papers.
6.12.2007 2:56am
JWB (mail):
As long as we're including road-map paragraphs, why not bite the bullet and include a short table of contents at the beginning of the article? It's understandable why literary or historical writers don't include a separate table before beginning their articles; writers in those fields intend to outline a narrative, and developing a convincing narrative is part of the substantive argument.

For legal writers, the proof is in the footnotes. Most of the audience won't read the entire article, skipping instead to the particular arguments that interest them. Individual arguments in an article are typically divided into sections, hence the need to provide a roadmap so that readers don't have to skim your work looking for the part they need.

Instead of forcing readers to parse a poorly-drafted road-map, wouldn't it be better to provide them a discreet table? The text would be free of cluttered signposts, and the resulting article would be more readable to boot...
6.12.2007 3:18am
such sweet thunder (mail):
I may be alone on this, but I think the classic law review outline paragraph is great for articles over twenty thousand words. With our long hodge-podge introductions it's a god send to be able to figure out what an author is trying to say in a series of one sentence short descriptions.

Of course, by god send I mean bad but necessary. If we were better scholars, our articles would rarely top 7,500 words and there would be no need for an outline in the first place.
6.12.2007 3:20am
CDU (mail):
I would definitely prefer the Intro-as-roadmap approach. It's far more readable and descriptive.
6.12.2007 3:35am
Dave Wangen (mail):
"You tell them what you're going to teach 'em, you teach 'em it, then you tell them what you just told 'em."
- Military Training Philosophy, as expressed by TSgt Winters.

Yes, the "introduction as roadmap" does a much better job. Rather than a boring mechanical statement that could be better done as a Table of Contents, it actually tells them what you're going to cover.
6.12.2007 4:28am
andy (mail) (www):
Hmmm...if you are writing on a topic that people aren't likely to be familiar with, it seems unwise to use the "enhanced" roadmap approach, although I think it works for your topic.

I personally like roadmap paragraphs; if i do read a law review article, i usually read less than 5 pages of it. The roadmap lets me know exactly which section to jump to, with more info than would be available just by glancing at a T.O.C.

Of course, many roadmaps are poorly written, but that just means the author is a bad writer, not that roadmaps are bad.
6.12.2007 7:51am
Steven H (mail):
I think roadmap grafs are good (better) for two reasons. One, to the extent that you don't need the info, you can easily identify and skip them. Two, a short roadmapping graf without anything else in there is pure functionality, unadorned by argument. If your argument involves several complex steps or is otherwise intricate, your "introduction as roadmap" makes it much harder to extract the roadmap part of it. And the extended discussion may make it harder to find the specific thing she's looking for, if she is only looking for one thing. For example, your "Part IV" discussion spans three paragraphs, where the traditional approach would put it into one or two consecutive sentences. Boiling it down helps the reader be efficient.

That said, there are plenty virtues of your approach. I just wanted to say something for the other side.
6.12.2007 8:33am
I also like the roadmap paragraph, for the same reason mentioned by others (I may just be looking for something in particular, and this helps me find it).
6.12.2007 8:57am
steve lost in law reviewland:
I hate the fact that law reviews spend 5 pages talking about what they're going to talk about. Why can't legal scholars aim for being concise? Might it be that such practice would show that many have little to say afterall?
6.12.2007 9:12am
Count me as part of the anti-roadmap faction. I've seen law review editors impose them on short, clear articles with obvious structures, and so I resent them the way I resent any rule that people adhere to rigidly even when it is unnecessary and inappropriate.

That doesn't mean people can't use them from time to time. It's just that they tend to be overused, and we should think about cutting back.
6.12.2007 9:28am
By the way, one obvious point is that if you don't like roadmap paragraphs, they are among the easiest things to just skip over, largely because they are so easily identifiable.
6.12.2007 9:34am
Is there something special about law review articles that require roadmap paragraphs? I don't know about other disciplines, but philosophy seems able to get by without them. It seems like the other real use is for folks who don't actually want to read the article carefully.
6.12.2007 9:50am
Law Review Editor (mail):
I actually like the roadmap paragraphs, for the reasons stated by many of the commenters above.

What I have a problem with, as an editor, are the attempts by many authors to begin their introductions with anectodes, or analogies, that come off as long-winded and/or belabored. A few authors are successful at this technique, but it seems to have become de rigueur. I would suggest to authors, as a rule, to avoid the anecdote beginning except for the very rare cases where the anecdote really drove the author to write the article. Otherwise, save your hypos, etc. for the body of the piece.
6.12.2007 9:53am
DavidS (mail):
In mathematics, I see both styles used fairly often, and I prefer the road map paragraph for two reasons. (1) It puts all of the structural information in a convenient place. In a long paper, I will return to that paragraph frequently in order to figure out where to look back to for material that I didn't follow the first time. (2) Often, the bulk of a paper is taken up with technical issues which deserve no more than a mention in the introduction. Confining the outline to a single paragraph allows the rest of the introduction to emphasize material according to its importance, not to the number of words it takes to describe it.

Of course, I don't know to what extent these issues carry over to legal writing.
6.12.2007 11:11am
Some articles have structures that don't require a lot of explanation. If half the paper is chronological, it makes little sense to have a roadmap that says "Part I will discuss the years from A to B, Part II will discuss the years from B to C," and so on. I suppose what you really want is all the chronology in Part I and all the analysis in Part II, but then you probably don't need a roadmap at the Part level and should instead have two for the various subparts within each part. In this example, the one for the analysis is far more important.

My question is always, is there an obvious narrative structure to the piece? If there is, then a roadmap breaks it up. If the parts are distinct conceptual chunks, with no particular "flow" from one to the next, then a roadmap is more appropriate.

I don't think I've ever used a roadmap paragraph to find a specific part of a paper, perhaps because I normally use electronic sources. A lot of tools for finding things are becoming obsolete in the world of text searches.
6.12.2007 12:22pm

As an aside, it may well be that I like roadmaps for personal use because I still tend to print out articles (and cases and so on) after I have identified them. For whatever reason, I still find it easier to read, highlight, and make notes on paper copies.

Anyway, I think some of your issues can be addressed with some careful consideration of the roadmap. For example, I wouldn't mind a roadmap sentence which said something like "Parts I and II contain a chronology of events in the the pre-X and post-X eras respectively". Of course that is just an example, but presumably you have SOME explanation for why it is in two parts.
6.12.2007 12:44pm
ATRGeek --

Fair enough. It's the mechanical approach (which is all too common) that I object to. Whatever makes sense is fine with me.
6.12.2007 1:31pm
Billy Budd (mail):
I disagree. When searching quickly through a large number of articles, nothing is more helpful than the roadmap paragraph. The rest of the introduction is usually fluff (or background that I already know), but the roadmap paragraph quickly tells me what the author is going to focus on. Splitting up the roadmap paragraph so that it effectively becomes the entire introduction is unhelpful, because it means that I'd have to read the entire introduction to get an idea of whether an article is relevant than one quick paragraph.
6.12.2007 7:06pm
The following is highly unrelated Volokh trivia sparked by this post:

If I remember correctly, in an introduction to one of EV's books (I think the one about writing student notes), Judge Kozinsky (sp?) makes reference to EV's student comment as being about a really dense property topic. Acording to this post, however, it was an interesting First Amendment student comment. Maybe the Judge was referring to a different student paper or was using literary license or I'm completely wrong about what was said in the intro.
6.12.2007 8:23pm
Kurt (www):
Gvillian - Judge Kozinski's intro said that Prof. Volokh "chucked" the original paper on property law and developed a new topic.
6.12.2007 10:30pm