Posted by: Jack Henry | January 3, 2019

Editor’s Corner: “In Process” or “In Progress”?

In the interest of starting the new year with a clean slate, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be tackling some difficult reader questions that I’ve been putting off answering.

This first question comes from Brandon, who wrote, “I always thought [in process and
in progress] meant the same thing. Then, the more I thought about it, I figured in process may be used to describe something not yet started, or in the beginning stages and thought. Whereas in progress denotes something underway or progressing and in action.”

My initial thought was that in progress is the correct term and that people who say in process are confusing it with the similar phrase in the process of.

The following sentences are both correct. The main difference is that the first emphasizes the action (renovation) and the second emphasizes the person doing the action (my brother).

  • The renovation is in progress.
  • My brother is in the process of renovating.

But what about the sentence, “The renovation is in process”? It sounds strange to me, and a quick Google search confirms that the phrase in progress is about seven times as common as in process.

However, according to Merriam-Webster, this use of in process is correct. (They give the example, “the job is not yet finished but is still in process.”) And if it’s good enough for Merriam-Webster, it’s good enough for me.

As for the question of whether in process and in progress mean the same thing, my answer is basically yes. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says they’re synonyms, and the Unabridged Dictionary gives definitions that are strikingly similar:

  • process: a progressive forward movement from one point to another on the way to completion
  • progress: an advance or movement to an objective or toward a goal

I did find several sources online that do differentiate between in progress and in process. For example, Investopedia says, “Some people differentiate between work in progress and work in process based on the duration of the production cycle.”

However, as with all jargon, if you’re writing for a general audience, be aware that the reader might interpret the terms differently or might not observe a distinction at all.

Avoid possible confusion by writing sentences that aren’t open to interpretation. Instead of writing, “We have two projects in process and one project in progress,” write something like, “We have two projects with a target completion date of January 5, 2019, and one project with a target completion date of late 2021.”

Thanks for the great question, Brandon, and happy new year to all of our readers.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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