Sample size determination is the act of choosing the number of observations or replicates to include in a statistical sample. The sample size is an important feature of any empirical study in which the goal is to make inferences about a population from a sample. In practice, the sample size used in a study is determined based on the expense of data collection, and the need to have sufficient statistical power. In complicated studies there may be several different sample sizes involved in the study: for example, in a survey sampling involving stratified sampling there would be different sample sizes for each population. In a census, data are collected on the entire population, hence the sample size is equal to the population size. In experimental design, where a study may be divided into different treatment groups, there may be different sample sizes for each group.
Sample sizes may be chosen in several different ways:
- expedience - For example, include those items readily available or convenient to collect. A choice of small sample sizes, though sometimes necessary, can result in wide confidence intervals or risks of errors in statistical hypothesis testing.
- using a target variance for an estimate to be derived from the sample eventually obtained
- using a target for the power of a statistical test to be applied once the sample is collected.
How samples are collected is discussed in sampling (statistics) and survey data collection.
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