How to Increase Law Review Article Citations

This blog post discusses an article by two George Mason Law librarians called “Hein, U.S. News, and How to Increase Citations.” Using a large dataset from Hein Online (a quarter-million law review articles published between 2015-2019), they tried to isolate some factors of articles that quickly generated citations.

To me, the standout statistic is that 82% of the articles in the dataset had NO citations in the time period they studied. Many of these papers are student notes, and some papers were surely still too new/young to get cited that quickly. Still, this statistic is a yellow flag. It suggests that the vast majority of law review articles don’t make much, if any, impression on the discourse. It highlights the importance of implementing a marketing plan for your works!

Also noteworthy: only 1.4% of articles had 10+ citations, and only 0.2% had 24+ citations. These articles will likely attract more citations over a longer period, but still, these numbers are conspicuously small. The reality is that most articles don’t generate many citations over their lifespan.

The authors’ recommendations to maximize citations based on the dataset correlations:

  • Write long articles (25k-35k words)
  • Keep titles short and don’t use colons in the title
  • Write on a popular/timely topic
  • Consider publishing in widely accessible journals
  • Publish in a top journal
  • Consider publishing with a co-author

The article doesn’t address the fairly obvious point that the first and third bullet points essentially reify the top journals’ selection standards (which is also their fifth bullet point). (Also, I believe it’s more common to see titles with colons in student papers than professor-authored works). This might suggest that journals have designed their selection criteria to maximize article citations, but it could also mean that the best authors write their most citable works in conformance with journals’ specs to optimize placement–so different journal selection standards would eventually lead to different results.

Regarding article length: assuming each effort took equal writing time, how would the citations of one long article compare to the total citations generated by several small articles/essays? In other words, if it takes the same time to write one 20,000 word article and four 5,000 word essays, which strategy yields the greater number of total citations? (Of course, every paper should adopt the format and length necessary to successfully advance its thesis). The authors offer some (not very convincing to me) hypotheses about why longer articles get more citations: readers may use length as a proxy for quality; longer articles may get picked up more often in keyword searches (because they have more words to index); and more readers may print long articles from Westlaw and Westlaw might use printing as a signal in its ranking algorithm.