Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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Inferential statistics

core definition

Inferential statistics are tools for data analysis that can be used in attempts to draw some inferences about the object of study rather than simply describing it.

explanatory context

Such inferences would be, for example, to see if one group of people is different from another, or whether one variable is related to another within a group, and so on.


Significance testing and multivariate analysis are the most used inferential statistical techniques.

analytical review

Trochim (2006) wrote:

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.

... 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.

associated issues


related areas

See also

multivariate analysis


Researching the Real World Section 8


Trochim, WMK, 2006, 'Inferential Statistics' in Research Methods Knowlege Base, last revised 20 October 2006, available at, accessed 24 January 2013, still available 6 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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