Essay on “The Value of Readership as a Scholarly Metric”

I shared a version of this with my faculty. I’d welcome your thoughts.


One of my goals as Associate Dean for Research is to get more people to read your works. This essay explains why readership matters and how, together, we can increase it. I’d be grateful for your thoughts about these topics.

Readership’s Benefits

Readership Benefits You. Readership builds your scholarly recognition. Your works demonstrate your expertise—but only if people actually read them. Thus, readership is a prerequisite for many benefits that you might value, including citations to your work, influence with policymakers, speaking invitations, media calls, expert gigs, and more.

Readership Benefits the Institution. Readership enhances several institutional metrics, such as SSRN’s ranking of law schools based on downloads of their scholars’ works. Getting your works read can also enhance alumni pride, attract prospective students, and provide other institutional benefits.

Readership Benefits the World. The more readers your works get, the more social benefit you generate.

Readership Bypasses the Placement Game. Proper marketing can get people to read your works regardless of who publishes them. Your works may not always get the placements they deserve, but together, we can always expand readership of your work.

The Low Marginal Costs of Readership. You invest hundreds of hours preparing your works. Spending a little more time to increase readership for those works boosts your returns from your effort.

Steps to Increase Readership

We can work together to increase your readership:

Step 1: Post Your Work Publicly. The most important step: ensure that your work is available at a publicly promotable URL. (If this is contractually restricted, you still may be able to post a pre-print or excerpts). Options include SSRN, the SCU Digital Commons, or the publisher’s website (if it’s open access). I post my articles to SSRN because:

  • I always know where to find the definitive version of my works.
  • SSRN’s eJournals expose my works to many academics in my field.
  • Search engines rank SSRN URLs highly.
  • Each download counts towards SSRN’s rankings.
  • SSRN provides metrics about engagement with my works.

[OCT. 2023 UPDATE: Rob Willey & Melanie Knapp, SSRN’s Impact on Citations to Legal Scholarship and How to Maximize It, 45 UALR L. Rev. 475 (2023), argue that SSRN postings boost article citations–even compared to open-access on the publishing journal’s website.]

Step 2: Promote Your Works via Email. Once I get a promotable URL for your scholarly works, I will email it to the people you cite in your footnotes and other influencers. However, I might miss some key readers, so I encourage you to email the URL to the top 10-15 people you want to read it.

Step 3: Promote Your Works on Your Social Media. Many people are eager to hear what you have to say—other scholars, policymakers, reporters, alumni, current students, prospective students, and more. How can they learn about your new works?

Social media is one way to tell them. Here’s my approach. As a researcher, I digest hundreds of pieces of information every day. Each day, I promote the top 1 or 2 things I’ve seen that day. This takes me a few minutes at most, and it’s a valuable community service. This steady stream of topical posts aggregates an audience—the same people who will be interested in announcements of my new works.

Many academics successfully use social media. According to Representing Law Faculty Scholarly Impact: Strategies for Improving Citation Metrics Accuracy and Promoting Scholarly Visibility, “Studies have found that scholars frequently use social media and that it has application at all points of the scholarly lifecycle, from the identification and discussion of related scholarship by other authors to the dissemination of one’s own research to the scholarly community.”