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A Tip on Writing Better Articles.

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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4 Responses

  1. Deven Desai says:

    Dave,

    Great points. I have some questions, however. Given the law review culture that seems to favor the approach you correctly criticize, how does one get away from this model while still passing the law student reader test? Maybe I am wrong, but there seems to be a screen for format and footnotes when one submits.

    In addition, it seems to me that the literature review problem stems, in part, from the nature of legal scholars. Stepping into new literature and presenting to audiences that have no clue about it might require the section that walks through the new area so that it can be applied later in the article. I also wonder whether the law brief roots of legal academic writing leads to an obsession to “prove” you did your homewrok as you say. Ironically, one could cite like mad and still be incorrect about the application.

    That being said, I agree with you and have wondered about this problem. Perhaps that is why I am asking for more here. I looked at the cautionary note from the post and maybe that is all we can do here too. Hmm. I wonder whether a few samples of articles that integrate non-legal material and meet some of your points would help? Reading good writing is usually a way to improve one’s writing. As I recall, I read Stephen Carter’s the Trouble with Trademarks in law school and one thing popped out. It was short, made a clear argument, and was quite a good read. I don’t think it dew on non-legal literature however.

    Ok now I have gone into too much detail. Curses! But thanks again for the post.

  2. Basil says:

    Its easy to criticize from inside the iron tower. But anyone seeking their first few placements or not yet granted a key to the iron tower should probably ignore this privileged rant. Most law review editors just aren’t going to bother on an article by a non-professor or new professor that lacks a critical mass of footnotes. We all know the reasons for this.

    Once, of course you get a track record and a nice letterhead you no longer have to worry about gaming the process with “multiple footnotes,” because now law review editors can just see where you teach and not bother to actually read the article. Unless you’re Mark Tushnet apparently. As we know from his recent awkward navel-gazing, over on Balkininization, he doesn’t understand why his failure to do what you criticize here didn’t get him a “good” placement.

    Dave, come on, you know why articles are written this way and you know why its unique to legal academic writing. Cloaking the discussion in fantasy doesn’t add anything to solving the underlying problem.

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    Basil

    I’m not naive, but I disagree with you nonetheless. True: junior scholars lard on the facts and the footnotes because they believe that law review editors use prolix writing as a proxy for quality. But there is no actual evidence that editors indeed behave in that way, and I think the simpler and cleaner hypothesis is that junior scholars write badly because they don’t have enough experience to write better. There is surely a range of good outcomes between between writing with no footnotes and writing so festooned with notes that it hits the reader with a thud.
    Why would you think that this problem is unique to legal writing? I think Gould has a paper on how junior scientists are more likely to write in the passive voice. Same problem, different expression.

  4. Dave Hoffman says:

    Basil

    Also, I think the genre-appropriate insult would be “inside the Dark Tower.”

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