APPENDIX I: The Language of Statistics
(back to table of contents; back to stats page)

One of the trickiest parts of learning statistics is getting used to the language. The formal terms make it difficult to understand statistical writing or statisticians when they’re talking. Also, it’s difficult for the beginner to use terms correctly when referring to results in a written paper or during a talk.

Part of the reason that the terms are so difficult is that it’s important to be precise. Also, scientists try to be careful not to over-state or over-interpret their results. It’s always possible that new information will become available that can change the interpretation of data. As a result, scientists are reluctant to ever say that something has been proven.

Below is a list of definitions and guidelines that hopefully will help the reader to understand and use the language of statistics. Some of these terms and definitions might not be entirely clear upon first reading. It may be worth returning to this section after reading the results section in a paper from the scientific literature, or before reporting your own results in a paper or talk.

Some Common Terms Used in Reporting Results from Statistical Tests

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