[ pey-per-wurk ]
/ ˈpeɪ pərˌwɜrk /
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written or clerical work, as records or reports, forming a necessary but often a routine and secondary part of some work or job.
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Origin of paperwork

First recorded in 1580–90; paper + work
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does paperwork mean?

Paperwork is the task of filling out forms, especially when they’re literally on paper.

More generally, paperwork refers to routine clerical and administrative work like recordkeeping and processing documents (regardless of whether they’re on paper).

Paperwork can be done as part of one’s job (the boring part), or in any setting that involves filling out forms, such as buying a house or a car or applying for a job. Doing so is often referred to as filling out (the) paperwork, doing (the) paperwork, or completing (the) paperwork.

Paperwork is a collective noun, meaning it appears in a singular form but refers to such tasks as a group.

Example: Applying for a job with the government required her to fill out an incredible amount of paperwork about her family history, education, and travel activity.

Where does paperwork come from?

The word paperwork has been used since the late 1500s (to refer to things like literary works), but the first records of it being used to refer to the work of filling out documents and such come from the 1860s. Other words are formed using the word work in a similar way, such as yardwork and drudgework (which a lot of people might use as a synonym for paperwork).

Everyone hates paperwork. It takes a lot of time and it’s tedious. But most people have to do it, at least once in a while. A lot of the time, paperwork is part of your job (especially the administrative part of your job that doesn’t have much to do with getting your actual job done). But there are a lot of other situations in which you have to fill out paperwork: job applications, tax forms, registration papers.

More of these processes are becoming paperless—meaning they’re done without using actual paper—but that doesn’t mean the paperwork is going away. People still often refer to such tasks as paperwork.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for paperwork?

What are some words that share a root or word element with paperwork

What are some words that often get used in discussing paperwork?


How is paperwork used in real life?

Life has a lot of paperwork, and the word is used in all kinds of contexts that involve a lot of forms, especially legal documents. When people discuss paperwork, it’s often to complain about there being too much.



Try using paperwork!

Which of the following words is MOST likely to be used to describe paperwork?

A. interesting
B. fun
C. tedious
D. enjoyable

How to use paperwork in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for paperwork

/ (ˈpeɪpəˌwɜːk) /

clerical work, such as the completion of forms or the writing of reports or letters
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012