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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Bad Titles

Via the Legal Writing Prof Blog, I learned of a recent talk by Bryan Garner that appears in the current issue of The Green Bag.  I found this piece amusing, and I think that it should be required reading for any student who is an editor of a law review or law journal.

One of Garner’s various proposals for rules that law review editors should enact is a 20-word limit on article titles.  Garner provides an example of an article that violates this rule:

The Use of Article 31(3)(C) of the VCLT in the Case Law of the ECtHR: An Effective Antifragmentation Tool or a Selective Loophole for the Reinforcement of Human Rights Teleology? Between Evolution and Systemic Integration

Garner’s proposal is something that I probably already implicitly follow.  While I do not count the number of words in the titles of articles I read, I am far less likely to take an article seriously if my first impression of the article is something as ungainly as the title above.

In the spirit of Garner’s commentary, I think that there should be some other rules that govern article titles.  The rules I propose are inspired entirely by this gem that I stumbled upon during my research today:

“Whoever Fights Monsters Should See To it That in the Process He Does Not Become a Monster” [Footnote]: Hunting the Sexual Predator With Silver Bullets - Federal Rules of Evidence 413-415 - and a Stake Through the Heart - Kansas v. Hendricks

(49 Fla. L. Rev. 505, 562 (1997)).  That entire block of text is the article’s title.  From this single example, prospective authors can learn several lessons.

·         Bryan Garner’s 20-word limit for titles seems to be an even better idea than before.
·         You should limit quotes in your title to 10 words (if you for some reason feel the need to include a quote in the first place).
·         While I like Nietzsche as much as the next guy, if you include a quote in your title, it should be easily recognizable by readers of all backgrounds…
·         …Because if the quote is not recognizable, you will be tempted to put a footnote in the title.
·         Don’t use weird metaphors in your title.

·         And for God’s sake, don’t explain each term of your title’s metaphor in your title.

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