I'm writing the introduction for a research proposal and am trying to express that our approach is "experimental" in the sense that it uses more exploratory and alternative methods rather than that it uses a controlled experiment.

Is the phrase "experimental approach" appropriate in this context? If not, what are alternatives? (Words like "novel" and "exploratory" aren't quite right.) Which way should that phrase be interpreted in general?

  • 1
    Why isn't "exploratory" appropriate? Appears to me a much better fit than "experimental", which people may interpret in the literal sense of empirical rather than theoretical. "We pursue an exploratory study to identify alternative methods, out of which the most promising ones will be the target of more in-depth investigations." Sounds solid to me. Replace exploratory with experimental and things get confusing. Or maybe I misinterpreted your intention?
    – user63725
    Oct 20, 2017 at 1:19
  • @glauc An "exploratory approach" or "exploratory study" could be using well-established methods in an exploratory way (e.g. on an incomplete dataset, or a pilot survey).
    – Maggie
    Oct 25, 2017 at 20:54
  • Experimental implies "designed experiments" (which you should presumably be able to describe in your proposal.) Nov 19, 2017 at 4:51
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    How about "new technique", "combined method", "alternative analysis", "improved algorithm", "calculation from first principles"?
    – xyz123
    Dec 19, 2017 at 5:42

2 Answers 2


I use the term "discovery" when I am using approaches where I don't really have a "control," but am trying to investigate phenomena to determine the underlying causes. (I use a simulation technique which is essentially "deterministic" in its results, so it's a matter of trying to find a model which explains the phenomenon in question, or determining results for a new system).

So this would perhaps be an example of "experimental discovery."


I think the word you are looking for is empirical.

  • 1
    I don't think this is a useful synonym for "exploratory" or "experimental" in the relevant sense.
    – Buzz
    Dec 19, 2017 at 4:22

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