What Is Sample Size?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn what sample size is and why having the correct sample size is important in statistical research.

[Featured image] Closeup of a hand holding a pen and marking answers on a statistical survey.

Sample size is the number of observations or individuals included in a study or experiment. It is the number of individuals, items, or data points selected from a larger population to represent it statistically. The sample size is a crucial consideration in research because it directly impacts the reliability and extent to which you can generalize those findings to the larger population.

A larger sample size can potentially enhance the precision of estimates, leading to a narrower margin of error. In other words, the results from a larger sample will likely be closer to the true population parameter. A larger sample size can also increase the power of a statistical test. This means that with a larger sample, you are less likely to find results that are not actually true.

However, having a sample size that is too large can cost unnecessary resources and time. A good study will be able to find the most accurate results with the least amount of subjects.

How do you determine sample size?

Determining the appropriate sample size for a study will usually involve considering the purpose of the study, population size, risk of committing an error, and available resources. When determining the appropriate sample size, you should consider factors such as the following:

Your study design

Different types of studies might require different sample sizes. For example, a study aiming to understand a rare disease might need a larger sample size to ensure it captures enough cases for analysis. Whether you choose to conduct an observational study, cohort study, case-control study, or experimental study will affect the sample size you need.

Your population

In general, with a smaller population, you will need a higher sampling ratio than in a larger population. If you are conducting a survey, you may also need to factor in your estimated response rate to ensure you are sampling enough people to get the number of responses you need. If you have a high degree of variability in your target population, you may also need to increase your sample size to increase the likelihood that your sample represents the population of interest.

Your statistical methods

You can use several statistical methods to calculate an appropriate sample size, such as power analysis. This method considers the effect size, significance level, and power to calculate the sample size. Essentially, you will need to determine what level of confidence you want to have in your results, and how much error you are willing to accept.

Your available resources

Lastly, practical considerations like time, money, and availability of subjects can affect the chosen sample size. While a larger sample size may offer more accurate results, it can also require more resources to collect and analyze.

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Understanding what sample size is and its significance can help you perform many analytical tasks. The appropriate sample size is not only pivotal for the validity and reliability of the study's findings but also for ensuring that the resources used in conducting the research are efficiently utilized. To expand on your analytical skills and build a job-ready portfolio, consider the Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera.

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