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FAQs - Descriptive and Inferential Statistics

What are the similarities between descriptive and inferential statistics?

Both descriptive and inferential statistics rely on the same set of data. Descriptive statistics rely solely on this set of data, whilst inferential statistics also rely on this data in order to make generalisations about a larger population.

What are the strengths of using descriptive statistics to examine a distribution of scores?

Other than the clarity with which descriptive statistics can clarify large volumes of data, there are no uncertainties about the values you get (other than only measurement error, etc.).

What are the limitations of descriptive statistics?

Descriptive statistics are limited in so much that they only allow you to make summations about the people or objects that you have actually measured. You cannot use the data you have collected to generalize to other people or objects (i.e., using data from a sample to infer the properties/parameters of a population). For example, if you tested a drug to beat cancer and it worked in your patients, you cannot claim that it would work in other cancer patients only relying on descriptive statistics (but inferential statistics would give you this opportunity).

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What are the limitations of inferential statistics?

There are two main limitations to the use of inferential statistics. The first, and most important limitation, which is present in all inferential statistics, is that you are providing data about a population that you have not fully measured, and therefore, cannot ever be completely sure that the values/statistics you calculate are correct. Remember, inferential statistics are based on the concept of using the values measured in a sample to estimate/infer the values that would be measured in a population; there will always be a degree of uncertainty in doing this. The second limitation is connected with the first limitation. Some, but not all, inferential tests require the user (i.e., you) to make educated guesses (based on theory) to run the inferential tests. Again, there will be some uncertainty in this process, which will have repercussions on the certainty of the results of some inferential statistics.

Why not now read our guide on Types of Variable?

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