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by the book: meaning and explanation

If you do something by the book, then you follow all the rules and regulations that you are supposed to. You don’t cheat, take shortcuts or ‘bend the rules’.

This expression can be used in a neutral or positive way (as with the first micro-dictation), but can also be used as a way of criticising someone for being inflexible and unprepared to do things in an unconventional way. e.g. If you’re looking for someone to come up with a creative solution to this, then don’t bother asking Mike. He always does everything by the book.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: England (RP)

, .
You don’t to worry , you’ve done .
You don’t anything to worry , as long you’ve done everything the book.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: Scotland

Micro-listening #3

Accent: Ireland


Extra practice

Here are some questions/links to help you learn the new vocabulary:

  • Can you think any situations where doing things by the book is especially important?
  • How do cultural differences or organisational cultures influence the expectation of doing things by the book?
  • In what situations is it advantageous to not do things strictly by the book?

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