“In Accordance With” and “According To”

Reader Doug asked me about the difference, if any, between in accordance with and according to.

Garner’s Modern American Usage says that according to means (1) “depending on”; (2) “as explained or reported by (a person)”; or (3) “in accordance with.” It’s used relatively often in contracts to convey the last of these meanings, as in “Any dispute must be resolved by arbitration according to the procedures stated in this section 12.10.” According to occurs in 240 contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the past week.

By contrast, in accordance with doesn’t have alternative meanings. That’s why I use in accordance with instead of according to—readers have an easier time of it if they don’t have to select among alternative meanings, even if they can do so in a fraction of a second.

For what it’s worth, most drafters would appear to agree with me: in accordance with occurs in 990 contracts filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the past week.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

15 thoughts on ““In Accordance With” and “According To””

  1. Denis: I think that under and in accordance with convey different meanings. If Acme takes an action under a contract, that action springs from the contract. By contrast, if Acme takes an action in accordance with a contract, that simply means that the action is consistent with whatever in the contract has a bearing on that action. Ken

  2. I would agree with you in the context set forth in your reply to my message, but would suggest that “under” would convey the same meaning as “in accordance with” if inserted into the sentence referenced in your post: “Any dispute must be resolved by arbitration [under/in accordance with] the procedures stated in this section 12.10.”

    Can we at least agree that “under” is preferable to “pursuant to?”

  3. Denis: Regarding the example in my post, “arbitration under the procedures stated in this section 12.10” perhaps sounds a little odd. But I’m OK with “arbitration under this section 12.10.” And the shorter, the better. Ken

  4. I see a distinction between doing something because you are required to do so by an agreement (where you act “pursuant to” the agreement), and doing something in a way not forbidden by an agreement (where you act “in accordance with” the agreement). However, I don’t see a consistency of usage between these two concepts so I must be more pedantic than most.

    I think “under” is a useful alternative that can sometimes be used in either case as dicussed above, but it may mean something close to “pursuant to” than “in accordance with”. It is slightly more ambiguous as well, as it can cover either scenario.

    “According to”, to my ears, does not carry the same meaning as “in accordance with”, despite what Garner may say, so I would never use it in a legal context.

  5. Art: In your example, I’d use under rather than pursuant to. I never use pursuant to; see MSCD 16.36.

    And the meaning you give according to is ultimately less relevant than the meaning the world at large gives it. I make it a point not to decree what stuff means. Instead, I recommend what words to use to avoid having a fight about meaning.


  6. I avoid “according to” precisely because of the potential fight about meaning – I simply haven’t heard the phrase used in that way. I do note that Garner is “American” usage, which may be the simple explanation of the difference on this point.

  7. Art: We’re in agreement that it’s best not to use according to.

    But indulge me in a quibble. You say that you haven’t encountered according to used to mean in accordance with. How about the phrase “according to Hoyle”? It doesn’t mean “as reported by Hoyle.”


  8. Ken: If there are only 3 choices, as per Garner, then “according to”, as used in contracts, means “in accordance with”, because the other two choices will seldom fit the context.

    My dictionary defines “accordance” as “agreement” or “conformance”. X in accordance with Y means X must agree or conform with Y. “According to” is very close to that, but by being more punchy, and less oblique, there is more a sense of strictness in the conformity.

    To say it differently, “in accordance with” has a bit of the sense of “not in disagreement with”. Or in more other words, “in accordance with” is way to fudge a bit, or not have to think too much about whether X and Y are in agreement, or rather simply not in disagreement. The popularity of “accordance” is explained partly by this slightly greater flexibility, and mostly by its pomposity. Doug

  9. Ken – I admit, I have never heard “according to Hoyle”, and if I did hear it I would assume that it meant that Hoyle had stated X to be the case, and we were to trust his word about the matter. But this shows how related the meanings are.

    Incidentally, I have no objections to quibbles. Isn’t that what this blog is for? ;)

  10. Art: I admit that “according to Hoyle” was already stale by the time I encountered it, in England in the 1970s. But haven’t you heard of the Google, gosh darn it! It does mean “in accordance with Hoyle.” Ken

    • Hi Ken,
      I know this is a very old thread, but it was what brought me to your site in the first place.
      My specialism is in drafting statements of work, and training technical (not legal) experts on how to draft them.

      In SoWs we often refer to the “specification” of the good or service, and also to applicable standards. In this context I use “in accordance with standard xyz” since this conveys the meaning of not being in contradiction, whereas I use “according to specification attached at xyz” which I believe brings a stronger sense of having to follow it, a higher standard than just not being in contradiction with it.

      It is a pretty arbitrary choice, but the distinction can help.


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