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Negative work indicates that the system is doing work on the surroundings so expansion work is done and the system itself is losing energy. Positive work means that the system is being compressed and the surroundings is doing work upon the system so that means its gaining energy.
Basically work is represented by "w". negative work means that the system has lost energy since it has itself done work. positive work means that the system has gained energy because something else has done work on the system.
This can become sort of confusing as U is said to equal both Q+W and Q-W; just try to keep in mind that internal energy is lost if the system DOES work; in the first equation this would mean W is negative and in the second it would be positive. Both mean the same thing.
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