When I write an academic paper and describe one of the previous researches, I found that the method is only based on the authors' own claims and lacks theory proof.

I am looking for a weak and negative/neutral adjective to describe their work (so that in the next part of paper we can highlight our contributions) .

  • 2
    It's a little unclear what you mean by "lacking theoretical proof". If you believe something may be true, that's a "theory".
    – Hot Licks
    May 8 '18 at 0:11
  • Well, in everyday language, it’s a theory. In scientific language, “theory” denotes something very well supported indeed.
    – Tom Zych
    May 8 '18 at 1:13
  • 2
    “Theoretical proof” is something of a self-contradiction, in a scientific context. Can you clarify how the article supports its conclusions, and what is missing?
    – Tom Zych
    May 8 '18 at 1:17
  • 1
    You need to state what academic field you are in and give an example. There are list members that are experienced in scientific academic writing, and are willing to help, but at present your question is too unclear.
    – David
    May 8 '18 at 21:10

You could say speculative research. It's not always necessarily negative, but it is if the author of the speculative research claims it proves anything. Other relevant words could be rationalising, making assumptions.


There are many ways to describe their research methodsuntested, unvalidated, unsupported, unverified, unproven, speculative — but extending any of them to their research conclusions would sound much more negative (or simply confusing). Since you want to say something "weak and negative/neutral", I'd suggest something like "using untested methods", rather than seeking a one-word adjective.

  • Untested seems like the best option, it's also used for drugs, an untested drug, meaning it has not been subject to (all) the appropriate scientific tests (yet) for it to be prescribed to (all) patients. source: Collins Dictionary
    – JJJ
    May 7 '18 at 21:40

I'd suggest

unsubstantiated [adjective]

Not supported or proven by evidence.

unsubstantiated claims



Research based on anecdotal evidence:




(of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.

"while there was much anecdotal evidence there was little hard fact"


Approaches to science that assume the availability (and necessity) of theoretical proof are usually termed positivist. Alternate approaches in philosophy of science are termed generically realist, relativist, and pragmatist, to name the most important ones. The most neutral term you might use is non-positivist, which will not carry a pejorative tone at all, though you will be outing yourself as a positivist.


"preliminary investigation" (or preliminary exploration) might be a way to avoid negativity.

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