Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dear law review editors everywhere--a few words of advice.

I'm in the process of reading page proofs from two different journals, both involving symposia, and I want to explain why one journal did a superb job of editing my work and one didn't.  If you're a law review editor who follows this advice, you're likely to have very happy authors.  If you don't, you might end up being the focus of comments like this one.
  1. Respect the author's voice.  You're not the author.  The person whose article you accepted is the author, and every author has his or her own style of writing.  Don't futz with that style.  It's one thing to tell an author that something that she wrote is unclear, or that a transition doesn't make sense, or that you see a hole in her argument.  Those are wonderful things to do, and telling an author those things makes the article stronger.  Deciding to "fix" the way that the author writes because you don't like her style is not a wonderful thing to do.  (We're just going to change back all of your "fixes" anyway, so both of us will end up feeling frustrated.)
  2. If you do make changes, make sure that the changes are obvious when you return the revisions to the author.  It's annoying to see an article that's been revised so many times by various editors that the "track changes" feature has become worthless.  The failure to indicate what language was changed from the author's original language just delays your editorial process because it slows down the author's review of your edits.  Oh, and mere formatting changes?  Those are different--go ahead and "accept" those changes so that we don't have to spend time doing that ourselves.*  I doubt that any of us care how you format your footnotes or what font you use, as long as the substance of the article is correct.
  3. If you make changes, get them right.  Please don't "fix" the author's writing by inserting language that changes the author's meaning, or by mis-citing things, or by making mistakes in spelling or grammar.  Although it's possible that you write more clearly than does your author,  it's not probable.  We write for a living; you're learning how to write as lawyers.  The odds are in our favor that we were right the first time.
  4. Be timely.  If you need a revision turned around by a specific date, work backwards from that date and give the author plenty of time to look at your proposed changes--and make sure that the author has actually received your revisions.  If you don't hear from an author by, say, a week after you've sent out a draft, follow up.  Email glitches can happen.
  5. Be accurate.  Don't make mistakes in cite-checking.  One of the best things that law reviews do is train students to be anal-retentive about certain things.  We want you to obsess over whether cross-references match.  We want you to be disturbed when a quotation mark is missing or a parenthetical statement has an open parenthesis but not a closed one.  We want you to check to see if every footnote is internally consistent.  We want you to be master proofreaders.  Talent at obsessing over tiny details will serve you well as a lawyer.  If, though, you miss obvious things, or if you alter things that actually were correct, we lose confidence in your abilities.
  6. Help the author "plug" the final version.  Some law reviews tweet about their issues; some go so far as to send copies to other professors whose work figured prominently in the article itself.  These creative ideas go a long way toward making an author so happy with your work that he or she looks forward to placing another article with your law review.
When the collaborative process between an author and her editors results in a better article than the one that the author had originally drafted, everyone wins. 

* Better yet:  give us two versions.  One should be the "track changes" version with the formatting changes already accepted, and one should be the version that shows every single thing that you changed from the author's own draft.


Anonymous said...

I haven't been in law school for a long time, but I can understand how some of these items could be irritating. However, I was a little shocked at the discourteous tone of the article. For example, while it is likely true that authors submitting articles are more experienced than a given editor, the language and tone used in that sentence, as well as the need to raise it, was disturbingly condescending. Someone else's viewpoint can provide a breath of fresh air, and in any event, the editor may be attempting to enforce its organization's requirements and therefore not reflect personal preferences. My main point is that perhaps the suggestions may have been better received and potentially utilized if phrased differently.

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