statistics are used to tell people about the collected
data in a study. They provide more information about the
study’s samples and how they were measured.
Samples are the people or items that are selected from a
population being studied. The results of the sampling
are used to draw generalized conclusions about the
larger group. Selecting individuals at random from a
population provides a broad understanding of that
population. For example, a researcher might select
random people with various shades of hair for a study
and then apply the results to everyone who lives there.
Narrowing the focus of a study to a smaller selected
group and then taking samples from it provides more
details about specific parts of the population. In this
case, a researcher could select only redheaded people as
his population and then select random redheads from the
group. The results would provide a good idea of what
redheads are like in a country but would tell little
about the general population.
Statisticians call the overall population ‘N’ and the
sample group ‘n.’ The sample group can be selected
through a process much like drawing a prize-winning
ticket out of a hat. This is known as “objective”
sampling. On the other hand, statisticians may rely on a
table of random numbers or use computer software that
picks out people at random. This is known as “procedure”
The answers that people in the sample provide are called
“responses.” Depending on what the researcher wants to
find out about these people, they may be asked several
questions requiring a response. A response is given a
numerical value that can be recorded and measured. Using
our redheads as an example, they could be asked if they
are right- or left-handed, if they have blue or hazel
eyes, or if they use sunscreen all of the time.
The researcher always gets the same answer when redheads
are asked about their hair color: red. In this example,
having red hair is what is known as a “constant.”
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Different redheads will give different answers to the
other questions. Hand dominance, eye color, and
sunscreen use vary among redheads. These responses are
called “variables.” By comparing these responses to
redheadedness, the researcher can draw some conclusions
about the people in the group.
For example, the researcher may find that left-handed
redheads are more likely to use sunscreen and that
hazel-eyed sample members tend to be left-handed.
Therefore, left-handed redheads with hazel eyes will
probably use sunscreen. Right-handed redheads with blue
eyes will probably not use it. These two groups are the
“norm.” Anyone who does not fall into either group
“deviates” from the norm.
Arranged on a bell curve, the people in the normal group
are clustered around the center of the graph. The
deviants are represented by the thinner ends of the
Researchers can determine more about the redheaded
people in the sample by using other measurements and
calculations that are too complex for a basic
introduction to descriptive statistics.
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