I encounter this term "principled approach" in some papers of computer science. Since I' m not a native speaker, I don' t quite understand what this means. And I didn' t find any results online.

I' m not sure if this site is appropriate for such questions. Please let me know if I posted at the wrong place.

  • 1
    I believe this question is off-topic for this board. Asking about the meaning of terms in academic papers is not appropriate for this board, unless it has something to do with being an academic. Otherwise, this should be asked on a CS board.
    – aeismail
    Jun 18, 2013 at 9:17
  • 2
    You might be right. But the search result shows some papers not in CS.
    – xgdgsc
    Jun 18, 2013 at 9:28
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    I think this is a broad enough term and approach to tackling research problems that it is relevant and on topic. I would be interested in an answer that provides an definition and explanation.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 18, 2013 at 14:03
  • there is a similar question on stats.se stats.stackexchange.com/questions/60812/… (with an open bounty expiring 2013-06-21)
    – Abe
    Jun 19, 2013 at 1:10
  • I would add that in experimental biology, a principled approach includes usage of rigorous methodology to derive optimal experimental design and analysis.
    – AlonGoren
    Nov 6, 2014 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


A 'principled approach', at least the way that I've been exposed to this term, implies due care and diligence with regards to the rigor and discipline used in the materials context. A paper that describes a principled approach would be one that is presenting a procedure for the execution or evaluation of a given subject matter. For example, if I picked up a paper titled 'A principled approach to algorithm selection and implementation' then I would expect the contents of that paper to clearly enumerate a system of algorithm analysis, with exhaustive supporting documentation.

Conversely, a paper which uses a principled approach would be one that follows such a detailed and rigorous methodology that the data collected from its research may be considered to be functionally with out bias and with a low probability of corruption or inaccuracy.


(I am in mathematics, but similar language is used roughly similarly, I believe.) As a place-holder answer: a "principled" approach in science is at least opposite to a quick-and-dirty, or ad _hoc_, or "kludge-y" approach, the latter three synonymous expressions meaning that the priority is getting some result out, perhaps even finding some rationalization for the conclusion one wants. Obviously a non-principled approach more lends itself to corrupted (but also quick, desired, easy) results.

The "principled" approach "takes the high road", does not bias conclusions, does not rationalize-away weaknesses or flaws in methodology or information.

That is, one could hope that a "principled" approach involves no conflict of interest for the parties involved, and could be trusted. At its worst, "unprincipled" approaches (which no one would ever admit to, except perhaps as a mildly perverse claim to fresh unorthodoxy) produce completely untrustworthy outcomes, because those outcomes are chosen in advance, and whatever results are obtained are "interpreted" to support the original premise.

A hilarious example I witnessed was a computer science M.S. (details elided to protect privacy), on which I was an "outside examiner", in which "the goal" was to prove that two bunches of events were correlated, thus proving that the people who were promoting the one as "cause" of the other were right, and people should invest in their product. (Nevermind that correlation is not causality.) The guy failed to find any correlation in any of the first twenty or so statistical tests he applied... but he kept at it, until he found a statistical test that did seem to assert a slight correlation.

Of course, what he had really proven was that there was apparently no correlation... but, taking an "unprincipled" approach, claimed the opposite of what his own evidence showed, etc.

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