Knowledge dissemination and ideology-framing in digital communication. The case of law journal abstracts


Over the course of the last decades, digital communication has contributed significantly to the dissemination of scientific knowledge, thus allowing also lay readers access to material primarily intended for expert audiences. This change has also affected domains, like legal research, which are traditionally and explicitly targeted to ‘insiders’, and particularly the esoteric community (i.e. experts working on similar cases/issues, as opposed to the exoteric scientific community at large). For the products of legal research to become appealing and ‘usable’ for both these audiences, their (meta-)representation needs to be strategically designed in order for legal academic texts to be recognized as authoritative sources where to find relevant contents and their discussion. This is the main purpose of abstracts (RAAs), which are meant to anticipate the main information contained in the associated research article (RA) in a way that is clear, comprehensible and cognitively appealing, so as to encourage readers to read the ensuing text in full. On this basis, this study analyses RAA discourse in online legal publications: a corpus of 100 RAAs from the Harvard Law Review ( is investigated in order to show how discursive choices may depend upon the epistemology of the domain, the content discussed (which may range from constitutional law, foreign affairs and national security to issues concerning privacy, intellectual property or civil rights), the target audience’s competence, background knowledge, motivation, or needs, and, ultimately, the purpose of the RA (i.e. speculative reasons vs practical application).

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v34p211

Keywords: legal studies; research article abstracts; engagement


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