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I'm aware of the rules of thumb (around 3,000 - 5,000 words, depending on whom you ask), but has this actually been written in a credible manual for writers that can be cited (not a website)?

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  • There's a number of questions on the site addressing chapter length, but none of the ones I scanned mention any book/paper as source for a given chapter length. Are you looking more for answers from how-to-write books from well-known authors, or more from the angle of academic research into writing/reading?
    – user54131
    Jun 10, 2022 at 7:32
  • @towr this is for academic research, so I can't cite stackexchange or blogs. If there was some sort of credible writing organization that put some rules of thumb in writing, then I think that would do, but I'm having difficulty finding those online.
    – irene
    Jun 10, 2022 at 19:39
  • Have you tried Google Scholar? There could be some articles there. (Most seem to cover specific authors or works.) You might also have some luck searching articles from your UNI library. But I question the scientific relevance of such a number since chapter lengths can vary wildly in fiction, as can scene lengths, even the word count of the whole book varies quite much even in the same genre.
    – Erk
    Jun 10, 2022 at 21:18
  • @Erk I did, but nothing came up (in contrast, blogs and websites on the topic are easy to find). I suppose that nobody writes papers on the lengths of chapters per se, but it could be buried in some article that is on a completely different topic.
    – irene
    Jun 11, 2022 at 1:25
  • 1
    You asked for something from a credible manual for writers to cite and specifically not a website. Frame challenge: I would argue that the following is a much more objective source than a writer's manual. The website Scribophile is a critique website where writers exchange critiques. They have hundreds of thousands of data points and they've discovered that people's attention spans are good for about 3,000 words. That's much more objective than an individual's opinion in a writer's manual.
    – levininja
    Jun 14, 2022 at 2:25

2 Answers 2

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There are various factors which determine 'ideal' length - and these include cost factors, publishers' preferences/experiences, and readership preferences.

I wouldn't be surprised if an 'ideal' chapter:work length were to connect in some way to a mathematical part:whole ratio like the Golden Section, as Don Paterson argues in relation to sonnet structure in the introduction of his 101 Sonnets collection.

For referencing in an academic paper, however, I don't see a problem with citing Reedsy's articles on chapter length and novel length.

There is a short section on how to estimate length for a non-fiction book proposal (based on multiplying the average length of the sample chapters by the proposed number of chapters in the envisaged book), and giving an estimated page range for the MS based on a 'standard 250 words per double-spaced page' in Elizabeth Lyon's Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write (Perigree: NY, 2002, 171).

You might contact Writer's Digest, who publish extensively on the topic of writing and publishing and put the question to them.

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  • Awesome, thank you! I've read the Reedsy article but was unaware of how citable it was. I guess that will do for now.
    – irene
    Jun 13, 2022 at 0:45
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If a manual wrote an answer to your question, I wouldn't consider it credible. There isn't an answer that fits every, or even most books, because writing is a craft that relies on people making decisions about things such as where to end chapters.

You don't specify if you are talking about fiction or non-fiction. If you are writing fiction you need to consider things like cliffhangers, pace and structure.

If you are writing non-fiction, you have to consider the genre: coffee table book, PHD thesis, etc.

Why do you need something that can be cited that isn't a website?

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  • It's a reference for an academic paper, and I'm looking for chapter lengths for fiction (nonfiction would be good info too though if that's available). A website may be fine if it was from some credible writing organization, something like the Chicago Manual of Style.
    – irene
    Jun 10, 2022 at 19:41

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