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Creating Research Timelines in Excel

With the written comprehensive exams now finished, I have been thinking more about the “writing phase”–specifically about how to organize the several different writing projects that I would like to complete by the end of next year. Paul Silvia’s book and the tool for tracking writing progress that I have been trying to refine from his suggestions have proven helpful over the summer while preparing for the comprehensive exams. Still, although it certainly can be used otherwise, a progress tracking system like Silvia suggests seems to work better for writing that can be open ended: by following a regular writing schedule, projects can regularly and reliably come to completion. What happens, however, if one is working under a deadline (be it self-imposed or not) and, therefore, needs to develop a writing schedule backwards from this due date?

The spreadsheet below is at least an elementary attempt to provide a tool for performing such a task. Yet, one obvious limitation of this spreadsheet method is that all the writing projects are arranged serially along the completion timeline rather than allowing for working on more than one project at once.

View this document on Scribd

If anyone else should find this tool useful and has refinement suggestions, I would be very interested in seeing them. For those who may be interested, this sample spreadsheet can be downloaded from Scribd, and some of the details are as follows:

  • Column D: Estimates the number of work days required to finish a writing project based on the average number of words per page, hours to write a page, work hours per week, and work days per week [e.g., =(((C3/B$13)*B$15)/(B$17/B$18))].
  • Column E: Translates work weeks into calendar weeks thereby accounting for regular days off each week [e.g., =(D3*7)/B$18].
  • Column F: Estimates the completion date of a given project based on a given start date or a previous project completion date.
  • Column G: Specifies any additional days off the specified writing schedule not already represented in Column E.
  • Column H: Calculates a final completion date based on Column F and Column G [e.g., =F3+G3].

These formulae appear to work on Google Docs exactly as they do on Excel when that program is operated on a Windows platform, but to my understanding, Excel calculates dates differently on Mac OS than it does on Windows, so Mac users may need to adjust this spreadsheet’s formulae.


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2 thoughts on “Creating Research Timelines in Excel

  1. Is this the newfangled equivalent of creating all those detailed revision timetables with colourcoded blocks, that took so long to complete you were already behind schedule by the time the thing was ready?

    Posted by Ros | August 18, 2009, 8:41 am
    • Hi, Ros. Thanks for stopping by. I’m not sure how newfangled this simplified spreadsheet version is, but yes, this spreadsheet looks like it will provide almost all the information that I personally would want from a more intensive project management system without the disadvantage of having to spend a significant amount of time managing the management system. The formulae took a couple tries to get completely straight, but from here on, the rest should simply be copy-and-paste.

      Posted by David Stark | August 18, 2009, 9:14 am

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This site and its content are licensed by J. David Stark under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).
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