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Work is a type of energy transfer, so if work is being done TO as system the system is being transferred energy so it will be a positive value. If work is being done BY a system then energy is being transferred out of a system so it will be a negative value
Lavelle gave a great example in class. If you are pumping a tire, you are putting work into the system (given that the tire/pump is the system). Therefore the work for the surroundings is negative because you are losing energy. But the work for the system is positive because it is having the work done to it.
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