Looks good on paper

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Looks good on paper is an interesting idiom. We will examine the meaning of the common saying looks good on paper, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Looks good on paper is an idiom that describes something that is true, adequate, or good in theory, but in practice, is not true, adequate, or good. For instance, teacher’s lesson plan may look good on paper, but when she teaches a class of students, the plan might not be adequate. Another example: A person who is searching for a mate may meet someone who has all the attributes of the type of mate she is searching for, but for some reason, that someone does not appeal to her. She may say that her date looks good on paper, but is not a good match. The image is that of a written list—“on paper.” Looks good on paper is a fairly common idiom that came into use at the beginning of the twentieth century and has risen in popularity, though its origin is unclear. Related phrases are look good on paper, looked good on paper, looking good on paper.


Although his 20 points-per-game, 51-percent from the field, and 40-percent from three looks good on paper, Harris didn’t receive enough love in the polls. (Sports Illustrated)

While that looks good on paper, attorney Donna Brown, who testified before the commission on behalf of the state’s Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that’s not how it works in real life. (Concord Monitor)

Coronavirus precautions for Super Bowl attendees looked good on paper but ‘the reality is sobering,’ says infectious disease expert (Business Insider)