How do you apply statistical reasoning when presented with a statistical study?

Today, let’s discuss applying statistical reasoning when presented with a statistical study. This is essential when trying to understand statistical information. 

1) Identify the purpose of the study: The purpose of a statistical study is the main reason why the study is being conducted. It’s important to identify this to understand the context of the statistical information you’re consuming. For example, imagine you come across a news article that says, “A new study finds that drinking coffee reduces the risk of heart disease.” The purpose of the study, in this case, is to investigate the relationship between coffee consumption and heart disease risk.

2) Determine the key variables: Variables are the measurable factors that are involved in a statistical study. In any study, there are two main types of variables: independent and dependent. The independent variable is the factor being manipulated or controlled, while the dependent variable is being observed or measured. 

Using our coffee example: 

  • The independent variable is coffee consumption (the factor being controlled or manipulated). 
  • The dependent variable is the risk of heart disease (the factor being observed or measured). 

To identify the key variables, try to look for factors that are being compared or related to the study. 

3) Look for additional variables or factors: Sometimes, additional variables or factors might impact a study’s results. These are known as confounding variables. In our example, factors such as age, gender, exercise, and diet can also influence the risk of heart disease. It’s essential to consider these factors when evaluating the validity of a study. 

4) Understand the study design: The design of the study can provide valuable insight into the credibility of the findings. For example, in our coffee consumption study, it could be a randomized controlled trial (a gold standard in research) or an observational study. The more robust the study design, the more confidence you can have in the results. 


In summary, when trying to identify the purpose and key variables of a statistical study, remember to: 

  1. Identify the purpose of the study. 
  2. Determine the key variables (independent and dependent). 
  3. Look for additional variables or factors (confounding variables). 
  4. Understand the study design.

By following these steps, you’ll be better equipped to consume and understand statistical information from various sources.