“For next week’s assignment, you will write 1000 words on what you found significant in Death of a Salesman.”
For a lot of students, little generates more dread than those words. Thoughts immediately turn to how to pad out word counts with meaningless, flowery language or how many times they can stick very in front of something before it gets flagged.
In actuality, though, while the number may sound a bit imposing the actual length of a thousand-word article in English is typically about 2 letter-sized (8½” x 11”) pages of single-spaced 12pt. text composed in your standard word processor.
Let’s start by looking at the question from a mechanical perspective, since this effectively sets the minimum amount of time required to complete the task. If you were to just sit down and start writing things nonstop, how long would it take to get to 1000 words?
If you’re a slow typist who needs to hunt and peck for every letter on the keyboard, your typing speed may be as low as 5 words per minute (WPM). At that speed it would take you about 3 hours and 20 minutes—with no breaks—to write 1000 words.
Handwriting it may be faster in that case—the average handwriting speed is about 20 WPM, meaning it’ll take just 50 minutes to write 1000 words that way.
As your typing proficiency improves, the time required naturally goes down. The median typing speed is 40 WPM, which would translate to 25 minutes. Moderately fast typists can do 60 WPM, and proficient touch typists composing original text can often exceed 100 WPM—suggesting that they could write 1000 words in a mere 10 minutes!
That being said, there’s more to writing than the mechancial process of putting words to paper. One important concern is the type of writing that you are doing—is this a piece you’re writing for your own enjoyment, or is it a formal piece of writing that will be reviewed and critiqued by others? More importantly, do you know what you are writing about?
A commonly-accepted rule in writing proposals to do work with the US Federal Government is that on average an experienced writer can write about 250 words an hour. Based on this, it would suggest that it would take 4 hours to write 1000 words.
How does that bear out in practice, though?
To get a fuller look at how long it takes to write, let’s take a detailed look at the writing process and what it involves.
Before we can get into the process of writing itself, we have to know what type of writing we are going to be doing. Your familiarity with the writing style required will directly affect how long it takes to get it done. As you grow more accustomed to the writing process, the time required to go through it will decrease.
It’s also important to note that not all steps of the writing process apply to all types of writing. While there are some foundational elements, such as composing your first draft, you probably aren’t going to be required to document your sources for a diary entry you write for your own eyes only unless you want to, for example.
A strictly-personal piece that isn’t intended for anyone else may just be a stream of consciousness that doesn’t require any further editing once committed to paper.
Academic writing will likely require extensive research, drafting, and editing before being finalized.
In business writing the assignments may be meted out across a team, requiring additional work to stitch the various pieces together into a cohesive whole.
Common types of writing include:
With that foundation laid, let’s take a look at the steps in the writing process itself. The following list provides an overview; we’ll be covering each step in detail below:
Oftentimes, as in the example at the start of this article, your topic will be given to you. Perhaps your boss asks you to write a short guide on how to perform a task at work or your professor has a precise idea in mind of what they want you to write about.
Sometimes you will be given a set of parameters within which you have to choose your own topic, such as when your English teacher tells you to write an analysis on your favorite sonnet by Shakespeare—hopefully you have one by this point, or else you could be in for a bit of additional reading and research to find one.
Other times you will be on your own to decide what to write about. Perhaps you are feeling inspired to start that book that has been on the back of your mind. Maybe you just have some thoughts passing through your head that you want to capture for later.
Depending on your situation, identifying your topic can be the longest or shortest step in the process.
Writer’s block is a real thing. Many people struggle with wanting to do something using their creative skills, only to find they lack inspiration on how to apply them. In the event of a case of writer’s block, it is best to look for outside assistance in finding inspiration. Try asking your friends or colleagues for ideas or looking for writing prompts online to give you a point to start from and work out of.
The first step in most writing is researching your topic and identifying your sources.
For academic writing, there may be specific journals or repositories that you need to search as part of your Literature Review (a formal analysis and summary of what has already been published on the topic)
For journalism or other research-based writing you may need to interview other people to collect information.
Even for personal writing it is often helpful, even if not required, to take down your ideas prior to starting to write.
The most important thing about this step is that you are assembling the raw materials and facts from which your narrative will be constructed.
Once you’ve collected your information, the next step is to take the information that you’ve collected and organize it in a way that allows you to read through it in a coherent manner.
Most traditional outlines are hierarchical, often with the first level defining the major sections or chapters, the second level defining the subsections, and the third level providing the topic sentences for each paragraph. While initially organizing the collected data, however, it may be more useful to organize it in a graphical manner, such as a flowchart or other diagram that allows you to group related facts and see how things fit together.
You don’t need to plan out every sentence of what you will write in your outline; the level of detail will vary depending on the project and whom the outline is intended for.
In business writing contexts, such as responding to a Request for Proposals, you may get handed an outline detailing the headings for what they want you to write, with little additional detail beyond how much they want you to write in each section and when you need to have your writing turned in to the team.
One danger that can come up in any form of writing, but is especially common in personal writing, is transitioning from the outlining process directly into the drafting process as you continue to add details to your outline, fleshing out every sentence along the way. When this occurs, it’s best to resist the temptation and push ahead with finalizing your outline first. This ensures that you’ve covered everything you want to in your outline, and that you’re satisfied with how it is organized. If you start writing too soon it will be harder to reorganize things if you find there is a better way to present your ideas as you progress further with your outline.
Once you’ve completed your outline, it’s time to compose your first draft, also known as a rough draft. Generally speaking, the process is pretty straightforward at this point if you’ve properly prepared your outline:
At this stage you should focus on getting your ideas down; don’t get hung up on correcting things at this stage. Editing is explicitly enumerated as a separate step because that is the appropriate time to start fixing things; the primary purpose of your first draft is to generate content to react to and refine. Starting the editing process early, or alternating between writing and editing as you go along creating your draft, will consume extra time on edits that may not prove necessary in the end due to reasons such as restructuring the flow of the document.
More importantly, editing while writing can break coherence with other parts of what you’re writing. You don’t truly know where things are going to end up until you finish writing your first draft. For this reason it’s important to see where things take you, then review it to see if it needs reorganizing, grammatical fixes, etc.
This isn’t to say you should be a slave to the outline as developed to this point if you see something that obviously is out of place when writing your draft; however this isn’t the time to seek out areas that need fixing.
The most important thing when editing for the first time is checking that the document flows well. Until you like the way your narrative is organized, don’t dedicate time to correcting grammar and spelling. Fixes in these areas may need to be redone if part of the text gets moved, struck, or rewritten as part of the review.
It’s also important to recognize at this point that your outline has served its purpose—it organized your thoughts well enough for you to commit them to paper. From this point forward it may be a useful tool to refer to, but (unless the outline has been prescribed for some reason) you shouldn’t feel beholden to its organization and structure if reorganizing it in a particular manner provides better clarity and readability.
Another important tip at this stage is to read your draft aloud. Sometimes when we just write as a stream of consciousness we end up making silly mistakes such as adding filler words on both sides of the sentence. The author of this very article has been guilty of sentences such as the following:
Here we have an example of redundancy where a phrase can be used at the start or end of the sentence, and in the interest of transitioning between things smoothly we accidentally put it in both places.
Another benefit to reading your draft aloud is that it facilitates taking a more critical approach to your writing by engaging more sense (hearing, in addition to seeing) in the process. It harnesses the power of your ear as a barometer to test the quality of the writing.
Specifically, as you are reading it you should be asking yourself the following questions:
Regarding the third question, It’s very easy to splice things into long sentences when just writing silently because you don’t have to process the entire sentence at once. You’re simply continuing to add pieces as you think of them and then moving on. Hearing it read aloud (and indeed, even the act of trying to read it with the proper inflection when reading it from the page) will reveal if a sentence has gotten too complex.
If you are new to writing it may take some time to develop your ear to distinguish between proper grammar as used in formal settings, informal grammar (which can include dialectal variations), and flat-out wrong grammar. Some great ways to develop it are to have other people who are more experienced writers edit your work for you and reviewing what changes they suggest.
In the absence of someone to help with editing for you, there are tools built into Microsoft Word and many other editing programs that will review your grammar for you and educate you on grammar rules to improve your writing. Read these suggestions and the details behind them, then apply the suggestions. Then read your revised work (both silently and aloud) and see how different it sounds so you get used to it.
Depending on the type of writing you are doing, what deadlines apply, and other factors, you may be able or required to repeat the cycle of reviewing and updating your draft, to be followed by further edits.
The scope of these edits typically gets finer with each cycle instead of broader. You shouldn’t be doing major restructuring of your document at this point unless new information comes forward indicating something is gravely wrong.
The most important thing about this stage, though, is knowing when to say enough is enough. It’s easy to get caught in a trap where you seek perfection—and thus never deliver. This is especially true if there is no deadline. Remember that it’s better to deliver an imperfect piece than to deliver nothing, and that as humans we are inherently incapable of true perfection, no matter how driven we are to seek it.
By the time your writing reaches this stage you’ve got all of your ideas down and organized, and the worst grammar and spelling issues have been fixed. Now it’s time to review everything one final time with a fine-toothed comb.
This is the stage where you break out the style guide (if one applies) and ensure that everything is in compliance with the requirements laid out therein:
As we wrap up this article, let’s look at a couple quick strategies for picking up the pace when you need to write 1000 words.
Most people have hours at which they feel that they are the most productive. Some are morning people, others are night owls. As much as you can, try to do your writing during whatever period you feel your best in.
You can’t fix a blank page, but once there’s something on it you can act on that. Or, as Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes put it, “I can’t make bricks without clay!”
When you get an idea on how to proceed with your assignment, you should jot it down in your preferred format as soon as you get it. This is especially true if it’s related to an assignment you’ve been agonizing over.
Personally, I find that pen and paper is ideal for this in many ways, as it allows you to organize your thoughts as best suits you and doesn’t require you to force structure upon them at this stage the way entering things directly into a word processor typically does. In the end, however, you should do whatever works best for you.
The most important points are that whatever format you choose is one that makes sense for you—at this stage you aren’t writing for anybody else. Once taken down, your notes should also be kept in a location where you’ll remember to come back for them. They aren’t doing anybody any good if you forget where they are.
While we don’t always have the luxury of being able to ask someone to review our writing, when you do have it you should avail yourself of it. Your mistakes and logic will often sound natural to you because you’re the one that committed them to the page in the first place. An outside perspective helps validate things and make sure that things make sense to potential readers.
How long it takes to write 1000 words can take anywhere from ten minutes to several days depending on how in-depth your process is and the deadlines you’re working with. But on average 250 words an hour is a good estimate of how long it takes to write something.
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