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Maybe I'm having a bad day, but I've just written a sentence similar to this one, and it doesn't read well for me, but I can't think of anything better right now:

The task was to build a new accounting system; up until that time they had been doing everything by hand.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

A good word for this would be hitherto.

The task was to build a new accounting system; hitherto, they had been doing everything by hand.

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This sounds like the right answer to me, though I'm open to being corrected. –  Benjol Jun 16 '11 at 20:11
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Note, though, that hitherto can sound ridiculously old-fashioned and pretentious. –  grautur Jun 16 '11 at 21:17
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@grautur Nonsense. –  Jez Jun 16 '11 at 21:21
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"Hitherto" is a great word - and we shouldn't treat great words like fine China that we place in the cabinet and never use. –  Chris B. Behrens Feb 23 '12 at 15:56

I would use until then.
Until, in sentences like the kidnappers have given us until October 11th to deliver the documents means up to.

Looking at the Corpus of Contemporary English to see how much frequently the phrases until then, up until then, up until that time, and until that time are used, I get these data (the frequency is given in per million):

first chart

If I look at when those phrases are used, I get the following data:

second chart

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Why are the points of "until then" across Spoken/Fiction/etc. connected by lines? They're not showing a progression, are they? :-) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 11 '11 at 13:21

You might say

...previously they had been doing everything by hand.

Or if you're trying to highlight an accomplishment on a CV you might say

...built a new accounting system which greatly reduced the need to do everything by hand.

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Yes, I thought of previously just after asking the question. Or maybe before that. It's not for a CV, but I think you're suggestion of completely rewording it is probably the best. –  Benjol Feb 11 '11 at 9:46

Sounds grammatical to me, though I would probably go with a simple "up until then", myself. The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English have the following stats:

                    BNC    COCA

up until that time    5      46
up until then        50     123
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