To upload or not to upload, that is the question…

ssrn.jpgAfter a couple of months as a law professor, I now have a few manuscripts for articles that I am working on. One of my manuscripts is more or less “finished.” There are few footnotes that say things like “cite to UCC incorporation literature” but you can read the piece from beginning to end. It has a complete argument. So now I am in the circulating phase, finding people who can give me criticisms and suggestions for revision going forward. Which leads to my question: Should I fill in the gaps in the footnotes and post this piece to SSRN? There are advantages and disadvantages.

On the positive side of the ledger, posting now will make it easier to distribute the manuscript among various commenters as I can send them to an SSRN page rather than clogging their in boxes with an attachment. Furthermore, to the extent that posting it on SSRN makes the work generally visible, it might attract the attention of someone that I don’t know but who is interested in the field and might give me useful feedback. Finally, from a purely cynical point of view, early posting allows me to boost my download numbers by having reviewers of my early draft access the paper via SSRN.

Then there are the negative sides of the ledger. As it now stands, my manuscript is hardly an embarrassment (I think that I make some good points), but I fully expect to revise it before submitting it to publication. I’ve no doubt that there are problems that I have not seen, and regardless I ought to be able to tighten up and deepen the argument in the face of criticisms offered on the early draft. In other words, should I post an early version of a manuscript that I hope will be improved in later drafts. SSRN is not the same thing as publication, but a paper on SSRN nevertheless becomes part of your public oeuvre. Do you want an early draft to be part of that? Then there is the issue of law review placement. Should one ever post on SSRN prior to submitting to law reviews? Will pre-publication downloads of an early draft impress future articles committees (“Hmm. There seems to be interest in this piece…”) or turn them off (“Hmm. It’s already up on SSRN; nothing new here…”)?

Any thoughts or suggestions?

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6 Responses

  1. Orin Kerr says:

    I would probably wait until your article is further along. My sense is that readers expect that a piece posted to SSRN is basically done; the author may tweak the details, but for the most part it’s all there, the footnotes are complete, and the like. As a result, most people who read the draft on SSRN won’t re-read the piece when it is published; they’ll figure they read it already.

    Finally, my sense is that it is considered better etiquette to send someone a draft than a link when asking for comments. If you just send the link, some might think that you’re more interested in boosting your download numbers than actually receiving comments. Better not to run that risk, I think.

  2. Frank says:

    As a matter of professional advice, Orin is on the mark….it probably ought to be as polished as possible. On the other hand, if what’s in SSRN is basically the same as what’s in a law journal, what’s the point? Simply to increase accessibility?

    I have put up a few things that are unfinished, and getting edited and revised as we speak. I think what I’ll do, when a final version is done, is to highlight somewhere in the abstract page the main revisions, so readers who’ve already read the first draft know where to look for new things. I just think that in fast-moving fields, it’s important to get ideas out there and “into the mix,” even if the pieces that contain them fail to maximize one’s reputation for polish, meticulousness, and detail.

  3. Ben Barros says:

    Based on advice I’ve received from many sources, it is important for junior faculty to be sure that anything they post (or just circulate to a senior faculty member) is in a relatively polished state. Of course, once it’s polished, the comments won’t be as useful, but first impressions matter a lot. And posting a polished draft still gets your ideas out into the mix a year or so before they come out in print.

  4. joe says:

    Amusing that law professors are concerned about “downloads”. I guess it’s better than worrying about billable hours.

  5. Miriam Cherry says:

    Downloads don’t really count for anything (at least not yet) so in my mind not worth the downside…

  6. This seems to seal any sense that SSRN was a “working paper” venue. I’m trying to think of a witty phrase analogizing to “video killed the radio star,” but it’s not happening.