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In a draft of a business document (in the United States) explaining an accounting process, I see the word "haphazardly" used where I think "randomly" might be more appropriate.

Here's an example: "We haphazardly selected 25 receipts generated in the month of July."

To me, "haphazardly" implies a degree of carelessness or even recklessness in the process, which is definitely not intended by the authors, who only wish to say that the receipts were selected at random.

Am I correct that "randomly" would be a better word? Or is "haphazardly" also OK in this context?

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    If the "disorganized" nature of the action was intentional then you should prefer "random" over "haphazard". (And there are probably better terms than "random".) – Hot Licks Nov 1 '16 at 22:58
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    ("Haphazard" implies carelessness.) – Hot Licks Nov 1 '16 at 23:07
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    It is possible that the selection process was not statistically random. Perhaps they meant arbitrarily? – Mick Nov 1 '16 at 23:17
  • @Hot Licks and Mick yes, process was probably not statistically random -- more likely arbitrary -- thank you! – Shane F. Nov 2 '16 at 0:10
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    Assuming that this is a report of an audit process of some kind, a more common term is "sampled" without specific reference to how the sample is derived. – Icy Nov 2 '16 at 13:21
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If you look at the separate dictionary definitions (Oxford Dictionaries - not OED) they do look remarkably similar:

random adj. made, done or happening without method or conscious decision.

haphazard adj lacking any obvious principle of organisation.

However, when you look more closely it is noticeable that the former is worded in such a way as would suggest a deliberate act, whilst the latter, beginning with the word lacking, suggests something less controlled.

Those are certainly the senses in which I would use the words, but it does not mean that they are not near synonyms.

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I won't repeat the definitions here, which others have given, but I will explain how people tend to go about making the choice among haphazard, arbitrary and random in general formal writing. (I think that's what you wanted to know.)

I listed the three words in order of planned-ness, with haphazard being at the least planned end of the spectrum. Strictly speaking, arbitrary might have been the correct word for the business document you read. In a math journal, an author would probably be careful not to confuse arbitrary with random. (And let's not get into pseudorandom!)

In more general formal writing, random would acceptable as a euphemism for arbitrary, which a general readership might connote with not very well thought out.

Haphazard is going to be connoted with sloppy. People aren't likely to use it to describe a process they aren't criticizing.

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  • Random also has a very specific meaning in accounting - or certainly the auditing of accounts. When I worked for one of the Big 4, we weren't allowed to say we took a random sample because of its very specific mathematical meaning. – Laconic Droid Nov 4 '16 at 3:16

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