Work in Progress or Work in Process – Which is Correct?

Some of us don’t complete most of the projects we undertake until the very last minute. Sometimes, we struggle with what to call them before they become finished products.

One of the best phrases to use to describe such a work is a work in progress, or an alternate form, work in process.

If one or both of these phrases is unfamiliar, you aren’t alone. Some writers aren’t sure whether to use work in progress or work in process, but you will discover the truth in this article.

What is the Difference Between Work in Progress and Work in Process?

In this article, I will compare work in progress vs. work in process. I will outline the correct spelling that the majority of writers use and use it in example sentences so you can see it in its proper context.

I will also use a mnemonic device that helps us to remember the difference between these confusing phrases.

When to Use Work in Progress

definition of work in progress definition of work in progress definitionWhat does work in progress mean? A work in progress is a project that is underway, but not yet complete. A family who buys a fixer-upper house and gradually remodels it might describe it as a work in progress.

Here are a few more examples,

  • Jeremy bought an old Mustang and tried to fix it up, but it is still a work in progress.
  • The company’s new website is a work in progress, since it functions, but is not very user-friendly.
  • Here are two images that are not in the show, which Levine is releasing for the first time. He describes them as works in progress that were never fully developed. –The New York Times

This phrase has been in use for at least 200 years. It has steadily gained in popularity over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, and today it is part of the everyday vocabulary of most Americans.

Work in progress functions as a noun in sentences; think of it as a synonym of project in that word’s noun sense. The sentences “This painting is still a project” and “This painting is still a work in progress” mean roughly the same thing.

When to Use Work in Process

define work in progressWork in process is a variant of the same phrase, with a similar meaning.

Work in progress has always been preferred in British English. Work in process was more popular for a short period in the 20th century in American English, although today work in progress is again the preferred term.

The charts below graph work in process vs. work in progress over time.

American English:

work in progress versus work in process

British English:

in progress or in process

No matter what side of the Atlantic you are writing, the phrase you are searching for in the 21st century is work in progress. If you use work in process, you will probably get a few strange looking glances.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Today, work in progress is the standard version of this phrase. It might be helpful to think of progress as gradual change for the better, while a process is a sequence of discrete steps toward a predetermined goal. Work in progress is therefore a little closer to the meaning of the phrase as it is normally used.

Since progress and gradual each contain the letter G, you can use that word as a reminder that work in progress is the correct version of this phrase.

Summary

Is it work in process or work in progress? Work in progress and work in process are variants of a noun phrase that means a job or project that isn’t finished yet.

Both have been used over the past 200 years, but today work in progress is the standard variant.

In summary,

  • Use work in progress.
  • Avoid work in process.