by the numbers


In a strict sequence, step-by-step; also, mechanically. For example, The only way to assemble this computer is to do it by the numbers, or Writing a novel is not something one can do by the numbers. This expression has nothing to do with actual numerical figures (like by the dozen) but uses numbers in the sense of a strict order or sequence.

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Question 1 of 9
You may have read the word "simmer" in a recipe or two, but what does it really mean?
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.