82% of law review articles have zero citations within the first five years.  82%.  This grim finding is from a recent study by Rob Willey and Melanie Knapp of George Mason University Law Library who reviewed nearly 250,000 law review articles published in HeinOnline from 2015-2019.

Some articles, however, are cited significantly more often.  What makes these articles so special?  According to Willey and Knapp, there are several article characteristics that correlate to increased citations in legal scholarship.  Here are a few of them.

Tips for Increasing Article Citations

  • Write long articles
    • The most cited law review articles were between 36 and 90 pages, with the sweet spot around 66-68 pages.  That equates to about 33,000 words.
    • Use reading aids, like a table of contents and plenty of headings, to make it easier to scan the content.
    • This finding was kind of troubling to me.  As the authors point out, “While the data indicates longer articles are more likely to be cited, this does not mean that they are actually better.”
  • Keep titles short and simple
    • The most cited articles had titles that averaged 52 characters long.
    • Only about a third of the most cited articles had a colon in the title.
    • Yeah, this one makes sense since they can be easily and quickly read and understood.
  • Write on a popular or timely topic
    • Not too surprising here.
    • Nearly 12% of the most cited articles included “technology” or “science and technology” as a topic; almost 7% were about “race” and over 5% were on “immigration.”
    • Authors can use Google Trends to gauge relative popularity and compare topics they are considering to see which is more popular.

For additional recommendations and explanations, see the full study.  Although it’s on the long side (no surprise there, I guess), it’s definitely worth a read, or as the author’s point out for long articles, a scan to quickly home in on what you need.  Fortunately, they provide a handy table with lots of dos and don’ts to point you in the right direction.  I know that I’ll be sharing these recommendations with our faculty.