Words, Pages, or Hours? How to Measure Writing Productivity

When most people set daily writing goals, they typically aim to measure their progress through words, pages, or hours. Selecting which measure to use is not always clear. This post offers considerations and insights for selecting among words, pages, or hours to measure writing productivity.

Before We Start

In this overview, I will provide general guidelines and suggestions when selecting between words, pages, and hours. Everyone has different writing needs, life situation, and goal, which impact their writing and writing output. This overview is meant to help you find a measure that is a strong personal fit.

What works for me might not work for you, but I hope these suggestions provide a helpful starting point. Most importantly, you can always adjust and change how you measure your writing productivity to better accommodate your personal situation.

A Quick Note About Words and Pages

Unlike hours, word and page counts measure your actual writing output.

When I was an undergraduate in the US, my term paper length range was given in pages. When I was a master’s student in the UK, paper length was given in words. As a doctoral student, I received length requirements in both pages and words.

What’s my preference between words and pages? It depends.

I tend to adjust my measures based on external requirements. If I am writing a conference paper, journal article, or book chapter, there are already measurable manuscript ranges set forth by the target venue (e.g., 15-20 pages double-spaced, no more than 5000 words, etc.). In this scenario, I allow my target venue guidelines to dictate whether I use pages or words because it makes it easier to track my progress.

However, when I wrote my dissertation – a longer manuscript with not-so-straightforward targets – the decision was not always so clear. The next sections offer considerations and insights when selecting between words and page AND hours.

Words vs. Pages vs. Hours

The Case for Words

A clear advantage of setting word count goals is that your progress isn’t impacted by different fonts and formatting settings. Simply put, it’s a more accurate output measure than pages.

If you are writing different sections or different projects in a day, then word counts can help you easily measure your total progress across all manuscripts.

When it comes to academic writing, our daily word count goals might not exceed a page, let alone pages. In this case, words are the most realistic output measure.

How I Use Word Counts: Word counts are my go-to writing measure if I have a decent handle on what I am intending to write. Most writers might struggle to come up with realistic daily word goals. Personally, my target word counts changed depending on challenge-level of my writing task. For less challenging tasks, my writing goal was around 500 words. For more challenging tasks, my goal was around 250-300 words.

The Case for Pages

Pages are a useful measure if you like to visualize your progress according to the formatting guidelines required of your manuscripts.

Pages can also help track progress if you need to include figures or tables in your writing piece. Creating these images takes time and energy and can be an important part of the writing process for certain manuscripts. Page measures can track progress for both image creation and the writing associated with it.

If you are at a point in your writing process where you are primarily editing, especially a formatted document, pages can be an easier measure of progress as opposed to words.

How I Use Page Counts: I like to use page measures when I am writing conferences papers. A 15-minute presentation is about 8 double-spaced pages (12-point Times New Roman font, US letter size page, 1-inch margins). Since I know I will be orating these papers, I use a less formal style, which tends to make the writing process slightly quicker. This makes page goals a more feasible daily measure. I typically can write 1-2 pages (double-spaced) in a day.

The Case for Hours

Sometimes you need to put time into reading, researching, and thinking (i.e., indirect writing tasks) before you start writing. This is especially true if you don’t know what to write or if you’re at the beginning of a writing project. These indirect writing tasks often require a lot of mental energy, but usually don’t produce a lot of obvious outputs (e.g., words or pages). Measuring your progress with time will help you stay on track and not feel burned by unrealistic word or page count measures.

Word and page count goals can easily fluctuate depending on the difficulty of the writing task. If you want to avoid constantly changing your daily writing goals, then a time measure could be the most useful.

This lack of fluctuation makes hour measures quite useful if you are trying to make writing a habit. This can be especially useful for long-term writing projects (e.g., books and dissertations) or if your field requires consistent publishing. A

How I Use Hours as a Measure: Personally, I found time measures especially useful as I wrote my dissertation. I aimed to write at least 3 hours a day. Honestly, I can’t do academic writing for more than 4 hours a day. After the 3-hour mark, the quality of my writing and my overall pace drastically decreases. On days when I had other things to do, my hour goal ranged from 1-2 hours of writing. Time measures gave me the flexibility to write challenging sections without the burden of meeting a certain word or page count goals.

Tracking Writing Productivity

When it comes to writing productivity, I highly recommend tracking your daily progress on an Excel sheet, in a notebook, or any other medium that allows you to enter in what you have achieved. This is important when you start a major writing project, especially if you have not been in the habit of writing recently. In the previous sections, I was able to outline what I typically could accomplish in a day for each measure because I tracked my progress. Tracking your progress is key to creating realistic and measurable writing goals.

Closing Thoughts

This post offered considerations and insights when deciding among words, pages, or hours to measure writing productivity. Below is a quick graphic that summarizes the key takeaways.

This graphic summarizes the key advantages of words, pages, and hours as writing productivity measures.

You can definitely change your writing measure based on your writing goals. The most important thing is to write!

Which measure do you prefer using? Let me know in the comments below!

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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