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On math, chemistry, physics etc tests we are supposed to show our "work" (or "workings".) Can "calculations" be used with "show"? Like a kid asks:

Do we need show our calculations?

Or should it be:

Do we need to show our work?

I couldn't find "show the calculations" anywhere on the internet. So is it wrong? What's more likely?

Thank you

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  • I heard the phrase "show your work" when I was no more than eight years old. I would not have understood the word "calculations" then.
    – JeremyC
    Aug 30 '19 at 21:41
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It is routine for a teacher to say "show your work". I don't recall ever seeing instructions that said "show your calculations". It wouldn't be wrong. It's a grammatically correct sentence and it makes sense in context. It's just not what people normally say.

Arguably "work" is more general than "calculations". "Work" could mean anything you do to figure out the answer to the problem. "Calculations" would normally be understood to mean arithmetic. If, for example, to solve an algebra problem I say that I expanded x(x+y) to x^2+xy, I wouldn't call that a "calculation", I'd call that an "algebraic manipulation". One could debate exactly what the word "calculation" means, but that's exactly why the teacher would be unlikely to use it in this context. It could be misleading or confusing.

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In all my math and science classes, and I'm nearing a B.S. in mathematics at an American university, I've never once heard "show your calculations" its always "show your work."

Two reasons I can think of for "calculations" being disfavored are:

  1. For clarity, you should avoid using a 4 syllable word when a 1 syllable word will work better.

  2. Instructors want to see your thought process beyond mere calculations. 'Work' encompasses stating interpretations and theorems while 'calculations' suggests just showing arithmetic.

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  • Perhaps a British/American thing, but I'd say "show your working" or "show your working out"
    – James K
    Aug 30 '19 at 22:00

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