I am looking for any indication of how long should it take to write, let's say, a paragraph, for a non-native English speaker (with a good knowledge of English). I know that for the writing process of a paper or essay one should take in account also the time required for research and mind-mapping, which is not easily quantifiable. I am interested in some reference for the time needed to translate the mind map to a paragraph. The only time indication I found was in http://www.scripps.edu/milligan/em-journal/pdf/Scientific_Writing.pdf (e.g Introduction: 3 days) , but the author clarifies that it is a personal opinion, and anyway it includes the mindmapping procedure. I can spend half an hour writing and editing a couple of sentences (already knowing which concept I need to express), how can I know if this time it's abnormous?

(meta: Feel free to move to personalproductivity if it's the case, I was unsure but then I thought of posting in academia because I am specifically talking about scientific writing)

  • Or maybe move to writing? Not sure.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 12, 2012 at 15:07
  • 8
    It takes whatever it takes. My MS advisor could (and I assume still can) reliably write a 15-page paper in a single long evening. I'm lucky if I can write an entire page in one day. We're both native English speakers.
    – JeffE
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 3:32

3 Answers 3


As a teacher who has taught many non-native speakers subjects in English, I am quite confident when I say that the time will vary by the person. Some people are quite strong and write faster (and better) than some native speakers but others write very, very slowly.

To have anything meaningful, there must be some quantifiable tie back to English level (what does 'good knowledge of English' mean to you? IELTS 8?)

It seems you are interesting to know if you are performing well enough compared to some standard, but we would first need the standard (and it does look like you're trying to find the standard) and that standard must take into account more than just the information you've provided (how much experience do you have writing in general? how good is your English? what kind of writing are you doing?).

  • My focus is not really on my performance compared to the average, the problem is that writing takes me much time and blocks my other tasks. I've asked for some references just to respect the Q&A format of StackExchange. It's been a long time since I've taken an English certification (263/300 at CBT TOEFL), anyway the final result of my writing is not so bad :) It's reasonable that to write (or edit) a paragraph I should not plan any other activity for half a day? I think I will try to write something every day to improve my confidence, but I'd like to have realistic expectations
    – laika
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 7:59
  • In my experience, writing and editing take time. However, the more you work at it, the better you will be. However, the more time you spend on it, the better the quality will be. You have to decide what quality you're willing to accept and give the time to get that quality from yourself.
    – earthling
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 23:07

That's a brilliant link - thanks. And you have a good question that worries lots of people. I wrote an answer to a similar question on my blog at ScholarWriter.

I believe that most people would say that you are jumping to the editing task far too soon.

  1. Decide on your outline - are you writing a narrative, an exposition, a persuasive piece or a scientific paper - and decide what each section is for.
  2. Do your research and add the "facts and figures" for each section getting as specific as each paragraph.
  3. Then write.

Edit your work the following day. Don't try to "polish" and write at the same time. Equally writing is much easier if you know exactly what you are trying to convey and have the correct information in front of you.

There is one other use for writing, though - to reveal connections and insights. As much as you know what you think when you say it, you know what it is possible to think when you write it. Often you only realize what is your main point after you have written a paragraph or section. So you go back to the beginning to structure everything again. Though that is a lot of extra work, in this situation you are pleased that to do work because now you are so clear about what you are trying to convey and which information it is important to include.

Hope this helps - and good luck!


Estimating the time to "write" a paragraph is hard since the paragraph isn't really done until you submit it. There can be many revisions before a paragraph is submitted, many of which have nothing to do with the paragraph itself (i.e., something else changed).

In my field conference abstracts are small (250 word), one-off, self-contained paragraphs. In my time estimates I assume that during the writing you are not collecting new data or conducting new analyses and that you understand the data and analysis that you have already completed. Obviously collecting data and understanding it can take huge amounts of time.

Grad students, both from observations and personal experience, take about 14 hours to write an abstract with it taking about 8 hours for the first draft, 4 hours to revise based on feedback from co-authors, and 2 hours to finalize after a second round of feedback. Post-docs go faster taking about 6 hours for the first draft and 2 hours to revise and finalize. They tend to only need one round of feedback. PIs go the fastest with about 4 hours to write and 15 minutes to revise based on feedback. Getting the feedback from co-authors takes times, but I don't consider that part of the writing process. There are a few people out there that can write beautiful technical prose at a rate of 500 words an hour, but they are the exception and not the rule.

  • These numbers seem huge to me. It may also depend on the area. For example I can imagine philosophy taking much longer to write (and read related work) than experimental science, where raw data obtained from experiments could actually be published without any abstract and be very useful and cited.
    – Trylks
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 0:15

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