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I am searching for an appropriate headline in scientific document. The chapter is named "Investigated Specimen" at the moment. In the chapter I describe crystals that I have investigated.

I feel that "Investigated Specimen" is not clear or appropriately descriptive. Would "Samples Used in the Experiments" be a common title or is there perhaps a better variant that is used in scientific papers?

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How about "crystals under investigation"? – user16269 Oct 31 '12 at 0:35
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Experimental Samples is a possibility. Analyzed Samples is another. I don't like specimen, even though it's a perfectly reasonable synonym, because it makes me think of urine specimen and stool specimen (I'm a biomedical editor), and I think that sample is more general in current scientific usage: many biomed, business management, and other technical writers use sample size to refer to the number of specimens in their study populations, whether they be rats, humans, tissue samples, data points, etc.

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I have come upon this exchange because I too need to choose between "sample" and "specimen" in a manuscript describing biological collections. I think there is an important difference, as a specimen is an example of an individual and a sample would contain multiple individuals (specimens) collected from a site. I don't worry that "specimen" might describe a cup of urine or a pinned insect, what is important is that specimen and sample are not interchangeable in this context. A sample of specimens represents a portion of a population from which biologists will attempt to extrapolate information.

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I used the linux command find -name "*.pdf" -exec pdftotext '{}' - \; |egrep --colour sample | wc -l to make a statistic on the usage of specimen and sample in publications of nature, and physic journals.

Files scanned: 443

specimen occured 57 times

sample occured 1696 times

Hence I am convinced to use sample

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I'd agree that sample is the right word to use (I'd use specimen for animals and plants, or parts thereof, and sample for inanimate material) but your statistics here are very likely misleading, because they do not distinguish between the word sample used as a verb and a noun. Possibly you should do a comparison between "the specimens" and "the samples" (plural to avoid things like "the sample size"). – Peter Shor Dec 12 '12 at 19:29

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