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Sunday, August 16, 2020

72 hours

 Someone on facebook, a former grad student in my department who is now editing the book review section for a journal, suggested that it takes 72 hours of work to produce a book review of 800 words or so. The context is that publishers now want to send ebooks instead of hard copies of the book to the reviewers. 

Now it takes me much less time I read about 60 pages a minute, so that would be 5 hours for a 300 page book. Then I would write the review in about two hours, spend another half an hour on another day and tweak it. I can write a paragraph of 250 words in less than an hour, etc... I don't think I've ever spent more than 10 hours on a review, and I think my reviews are well-written and responsible. The editors rarely ask for changes. 

I would give similar answers to doing a peer review of an article. I would read it in an hour, then the next day spend another hour writing the review. As I'm reading something, I start to form opinions and draw conclusions, and then I start to formulate sentences in my head. I make a note of page numbers I want to come back to to cite, etc... 

I'm sure the 72 hours is reflective of someone's experience doing this, but then I wonder if hypothetical-person-for-whom-it-takes-this-long should be even doing book reviews at all.  That would be basically all the person's research time for two months. If person is grad student or non-tenured, then he or she needs to allocate energy correctly. If said person is that slow in doing things, then it is hard to see how they could write a dissertation or an article, so doing extra tasks that are extremely time-consuming is not well-advised. 

I do not mean to be criticizing my former student, for this has opened up for me a perspective that is valuable to me: I might be faster than other people doing the same amount of work. I don't cut corners, but I work efficiently on things like this. I tend to prioritize things that are significant, so in a tenure review I won't write summaries of someone's arguments in all their articles and books, but say in a few words what the strong points are. I have to be careful, because a very short letter would look bad, even if I can say all I need to say in a short space. I typically have to flesh things out more just to make the letter longer and more substantial in appearance. As a reader of such letters I typically find that 3 pages is ideal. Four or more pages of a tenure letter means that the writer is doing a lot of summary or entering into non-essential detail. One or two pages is not enough for a substantive review. 

Once again, I would typically read a page a minute and mark things I want to quote, then take a few hours to compose the letter itself, maybe an hour a page at most. 



Leslie B. said...

I would give myself, to write that kind of 800 words, an hour to think about it, an hour to design it, three to write it and one to revise it. The first two hours might take place while I was doing something else, dishes, yard work, walking, lying at the pool, and I might not take all three hours to write it. It would all depend on how close the review was to my sub sub field or to what I was thinking about at the time. The closer it is, the faster I can be.

To read the book: I read slowly, especially if it's something theoretical or out of field or so much in field that I want to take notes. 300 pages = 9 hours on average, maybe less. So yes, a weekend or even a long weekend to write a review, if I took all of the 14 hours I would allow. That's how long it takes me to come up with a panel proposal for a competitive conference like the MLA, too ... like the ones with the 8 papers, for that MLA in Austin, to get in with a topic like Vallejo you have to do research and create a tight piece of prose, and it took me all 5 days of the Mardi Gras weekend to do it.

The way around this is to put more time into research and into one set of closely interrelated projects. When everything you are doing is related to every other, they feed into each other and create momentum. Also only having 2 courses, or only having two preparations even if you have more courses than 2, makes me more agile for tasks like this because it feels as though I have more space in my brain.

Leslie B. said...

...I mean, *15* hours is what I'd plan on, for a book review. But 2 would not be sitting at the desk, and the remaining 13 might not all be used.

For the other things, yes. Except back to reviews: I dislike reviewing edited books, and they take me longer to read and think about.

Jonathan said...

So your time allocation would not be that different from mine.

Leslie B. said...

No, but it would take me more time to get those hours, I'm more fragmented (I think) and it takes me time to get into a topic, because of that I might be slightly lowballing.