Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Writers' Lab: How much time does it take to write a dissertation?

As I've been keeping track of how I spend my time in ManicTime, I can now assess how much time writing my dissertation took me, and how much time rewriting and implementing comments took me.

When I finished my first draft, I thought the biggest chunk of work was done.

So. Wrong.

I spent a total of a little over 600 hours on my dissertation, over a time period from March 2012 to May 2013.

The following list shows you how my time budget breaks down:

Writing the first draft: 205 hours
Rewriting the first draft for approval by promotor and copromotor: 123 hours
Working on the comments of my committee: 255 hours
Final preparations on layout to get it ready for printing and publishing: 30 hours

As you can see: writing the first draft is only 1/3 of all the work. There's much more to be done afterwards...

If we break it down into time, the chronology of my dissertation looked like this:

Writing the first draft: March 2012 - November 2012

I delivered my first draft on November 14th. Most of my first 4 chapters as well as my 7th chapter were written in weekends and on the evenings, as I couldn't find the peace and calm for writing during the office hours, where regular research and teaching activities were in full swing. Over summer, I wrote a set of conference papers for the conferences that I was planning to attend in 2013, and in September and October I carried out the research for chapters 5 and 6.

Rewriting the first draft for approval by promotor and copromotor: early December 2012 - end of January 2013

As so many PhD students, I had to try rather hard to convince my busy supervisors to sit down, read the draft and provide me with their comments. As I had been working on my theory in silence, and not discussed it until I delivered the first draft, it took a number of meetings and significant rewriting of my chapter 5 to actually get my message across. In fact, this chunk of research was something I hadn't shown in a presentation yet, nor written down in a paper, so it naturally took me more time t crystallize my message.

Working on the comments of my committee: March 2013- mid April 2013

That was one hell of a busy time! The committee members get maximum 3 weeks for their feedback, I calculated a month, but the time it takes to pin a meeting with everybody added another 2 weeks. Working through the comments also added about 100 pages to the final document (also a number of extra Annexes).

Final preparations on layout to get it ready for printing and publishing: first half of May 2013

I found it very hard to stop proofreading, and to just let it go and accept that it can't be perfect. The final preparations were mostly related to fishing for typos, and getting my layout ready for the printer. Don't ask me about putting landscape tables on a portrait page - I spent three full days fretting away at that, and I still have a Table of Doom in my final dissertation.

How much time did you spend on rewriting as compared to writing? Do my results correspond to yours, or was your first draft an immediate hit?


  1. Thanks for the post. I was just trying to estimate this the other day. Everyone always says 3 months. But I was wondering how many hours exactly. I did not think to keep track of mine when I wrote my dissertation a few years ago. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I've been tracking my time for the largest part of my PhD, so I just could look at the "dissertation" tag in my ManicTime :)

    I do think 3 months can be too optimistic, when you need to wait for feedback, teaching duties creep in and paper deadlines come up... I found it hard to defend my writing time.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I'm currently writing my dissertation, and I'm kind of lost, because no one can tell me how many time I'll need to finish it. Your experience is a very useful guide!

  4. It's different for everybody, of course, but I hope this gives you a first idea :)

  5. Hi eva (& all others). Can u all tell me how much time it took to write the paper that u sent for publishing. To be precise, suppose u have obtained all the results, decided what all u are going to put in the paper & also written a sort of rough draft. Now after that how much time did u take to just write the final version of the paper? I am asking this because I im in the process of doing this painful part & am taking a lot of time (figures, supplementary material & a lot of LAZYNESS.)

    1. around 40 hours typically - spaced out over 2 or 3 weeks

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