Reading: How many pages?


I am sure this question has been up in the past. But I often find myself googling the topic, and it is sursprisingly hard to find discussions on this topic among academics, and people in the humanities in particular. And the topic is rarely discussed among colleges. Do academics (in humanities in particular) pride themselves with not talking about their personal reading discipline? Or is it simply a matter of course that it is futile to generalize on the topic, and every experienced reader knows this? Perhaps...

My phd is in philosophy, so I read demanding texts. Like secondary litterature on Hegel, Heidegger, Husserl etc. Or, I am reading primary texts. So it is a type of reading that demands that you get your head around quite complex stuff. I don't read much fiction, because all my reading energy goes into academic reading. So I think I have got used to a quite slow, and more contemplavie type of reading. But as an academic I still find myself asking how many pages I should read to feel content.

I once heard a professor say that when he was young he got the advice that to become an intellectual you need to read 100 pages per day (no matter what genre). He shared the story with a sense of irony, saying that he did practice this for a while before he got wiser. Another professor said that in philosophy, some times you work a whole day and only cover 20 pages. Another professor once said that 100 pages per week is ok, in order to really learn the subject you study.

I am at my 5:th phd year, and I feel a bit tired right now, a lot of work and no vacation. I work full time, no other distractions really. I have phases when I prefer to read only (no writing). Sure, I had days when I read 100 pages (depending on the material), but that is rare. In general, I really have to struggle to maintain 50-60 pages per day (5 days a week). On the other hand, I do think I get a good understanding of what I read.

But I am curious about academics working with similar type of (theoretical) litterature. How many pages per day or week is normal for you (in the long run)? What is your approach to reading? Do you often skim through parts? Have you found a perfect balance on how much to read per day/week that works for you? What is your take on quality-reading (understanding a text) contra academic zeal (covering a lot of pages)?

Avatar for rewt

You read enough until you feel comfortable with the literature. There is a joke in my department (engineering) that the PhD students know the literature better than some lecturers. As you only need to know enough literature to apply it and expand upon it, as you can't be an expert in everything.

Also I don't think quantity matters as much as quality of the work. Again in engineering, I could read 10 papers in a week and only 1 would actually be useful. Then my supervisor will read one paper that month and it will be that useful paper as she has a knack for finding the most useful works. So knowing what to read can save a lot of time.


Talking about how many pages to read per day reminds me of the discussion about how many hours to work per week.
Neither is a particularly helpful metric and leads to a box ticking mentality. This in turn gets you absolutely nowhere fast.

You should identify more meaningful task-based metrics. i.e. Mastering a particular programming language etc.
Time-based metrics are the root of all evil in my experience. Setting them is the easiest way to suck the life from anything you do, turning enjoyment into a grade A chore.


I agree that it is a boring measurement. But having said that, I am still interested to hear about how people manage their balance in reading between quantity and quality.


It's not a "boring" measurement. It's an almost useless measurement which can de-rail your PhD.
By all means go your own way on this but you should exercise caution.


Being into the 5th year of PhD this question is rather late !? All the same, by now you would be in a position to discern which article /material needs full reading and which one needs a gloss over. Having said that, unless all the reading translates into some notes writing the number of pages has no significance. At the end of the day what matters is how much progress are you making towards your goal on daily basis. I for one would not like to waste time in figuring out how many pages to read rather than make concrete advances. I must add that PhD is not end-all, its a stepping stone for future research for life time. I know I haven't answered your question (no. of pages).

REMEMBER five years is considerable time spent. I read during childhood from Reader's Digest, that one needs to spend one-hour every day for next 8 years, to become an authority on the subject, in the world. This was prior to the advent of internet . So, its the time spent, not the number (pages) that matters.


It really doesn't help to focus on hours spent reading either.
If your hour is spent doing low quality things then that doesn't get you anywhere either.
You need to focus on high quality more than anything else. There are no other metrics which will help.