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My advisor insists on using a heading "Experimental Setup" in his science journal articles. I always cringed a little, thinking it should be "Experiment setup" instead. Now I am writing an article and in his edits he wants me to add the -al.

To me, "experimental setup" sounds like the setup itself is experimental, but "experiment setup" sounds more like we set up an experiment. Technically, we set up an experiment, and the setup itself was not the experiment. I suppose the root of my question in this case is, is the word "experiment" supposed to be an adjective or a noun? Hopefully that explanation makes my grievance clear..

English is his 2nd language, and my first, so he won't mind me questioning it.

Does anyone have a definitive answer to that one? Thank in advance! -Curious Grad Student

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    I completely agree with you on that. It reads as a setup that you are trying out. – Avon Jul 10 '15 at 22:08
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He is following convention. Try looking at other papers, this is the standard term.

If you say "Experiment Setup" you may feel better but your readers will wonder what you are trying to prove - worse they may think you have made an error.

Maybe, as a compromise, you could say "Setup of the Experiment" (?)

  • I agree, this does seem to be the norm. In the long run, I will probably just go with The Boss and do it his way. Thank you! – GradStudent Jul 10 '15 at 23:14
  • It is sometimes the case that almost everybody gets it wrong. Especially when many follow like sheep and do not question. This applies to life as well as to language. – Brian Hitchcock Jul 11 '15 at 9:35
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Here's chapter subheading C from the book Quantum Mechanics by K. T. Hecht:

C   Complementary Experimental Setup

The Ngram Viewer sides with your advisor, finding the usage with -al over fifty times as popular as the usage without.

I understand your unease. It's the same one I get when I hear the words "oversight committee." Are they overseeing something or overlooking it?

  • I've never seen the Ngram viewer before. What a cool tool! – GradStudent Jul 10 '15 at 23:18
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Is there a reason why 'methodology' is not a suitable alternative? That's what I would go with in this situation to avoid confusion.

Also, just a thought, are you absolutely sure that the setup itself is not experimental? Typically primary research papers will cite previously published literature that outlines the methods that were used in the research or otherwise state that the methods were developed by the authors. Often there will be a citation in addition to some specified modifications to that protocol that the authors employed in their research. Either way, if it hasn't yet been used by other researchers to reproduce data then I would say it's fair to refer to novel setups as "experimental" experiment setups.

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