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Inferential Statistics

With inferential statistics, you are trying to reach conclusions that extend beyond the immediate data alone. For instance, we use inferential statistics to try to infer from the sample data what the population might think. Or, we use inferential statistics to make judgments of the probability that an observed difference between groups is a dependable one or one that might have happened by chance in this study. Thus, we use inferential statistics to make inferences from our data to more general conditions; we use descriptive statistics simply to describe what's going on in our data.

Here, I concentrate on inferential statistics that are useful in experimental and quasi-experimental research design or in program outcome evaluation. Perhaps one of the simplest inferential test is used when you want to compare the average performance of two groups on a single measure to see if there is a difference. You might want to know whether eighth-grade boys and girls differ in math test scores or whether a program group differs on the outcome measure from a control group. Whenever you wish to compare the average performance between two groups you should consider the t-test for differences between groups.

Most of the major inferential statistics come from a general family of statistical models known as the General Linear Model. This includes the t-test, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA), regression analysis, and many of the multivariate methods like factor analysis, multidimensional scaling, cluster analysis, discriminant function analysis, and so on. Given the importance of the General Linear Model, it's a good idea for any serious social researcher to become familiar with its workings. The discussion of the General Linear Model here is very elementary and only considers the simplest straight-line model. However, it will get you familiar with the idea of the linear model and help prepare you for the more complex analyses described below. Inferential Statistics

Inferential statistics is concerned with making predictions or inferences about a population from observations and analyses of a sample. That is, we can take the results of an analysis using a sample and can generalize it to the larger population that the sample represents. In order to do this, however, it is imperative that the sample is representative of the group to which it is being generalized.

To address this issue of generalization, we have tests of significance. A Chi-square or T-test, for example, can tell us the probability that the results of our analysis on the sample are representative of the population that the sample represents. In other words, these tests of significance tell us the probability that the results of the analysis could have occurred by chance when there is no relationship at all between the variables we studied in the population we studied.

Examples of inferential statistics include linear regression analyses, logistic regression analyses, ANOVA, correlation analyses, structural equation modeling, and survival analysis Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics is the term given to the analysis of data that helps describe, show or summarize data in a meaningful way such that, for example, patterns might emerge from the data. Descriptive statistics do not, however, allow us to make conclusions beyond the data we have analyzed or reach conclusions regarding any hypotheses we might have made. They are simply a way to describe our data.

Descriptive statistics are very important because if we simply presented our raw data it would be hard to visulize what the data was showing, especially if there was a lot of it. Descriptive statistics therefore enables us to present the data in a more meaningful way, which allows simpler interpretation of the data. For example, if we had the results of 100 pieces of students' coursework, we may be interested in the overall performance of those students. We would also be interested in the distribution or spread of the marks. Descriptive statistics allow us to do this. How to properly describe data through statistics and graphs is an important topic and discussed in other Laerd Statistics guides. Typically, there are two general types of statistic that are used to describe data: Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics includes statistical procedures that we use to describe the population we are studying. The data could be collected from either a sample or a population, but the results help us organize and describe data. Descriptive statistics can only be used to describe the group that is being studying. That is, the results cannot be generalized to any larger group.

Descriptive statistics are useful and serviceable if you do not need to extend your results to any larger group. However, much of social sciences tend to include studies that give us universal truths about segments of the population, such as all parents, all women, all victims, etc.