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Determining Sample Size in One Picture

Determining sample sizes is a challenging undertaking. For simplicity, I’ve limited this picture to the one of the most common testing situation: testing for differences in means. Some assumptions have been made (for example, normality and equal sample sizes). Additionally, the formulas shown are for one-tailed tests. Usually, a small tweak (e.g. replacing Zα by Zα/2) is all that’s required for two-tailed tests.


Click on the picture to zoom in

The picture shows the traditional (frequentist) route for determining sample size. Another possible route is to use Bayesian methods. Although becoming more popular, none of the major software programs include those methods and–unlike the frequentist route—no standard Bayesian methods exist for determining sample size. If you’re interested in Bayesian methods, refer to Chapter 13 in Chow, et al, 2008.

Further Information:


Chow et. al (2017). Sample Size Calculations in Clinical Research. CRC Press

Ryan, T. (2013). Sample Size Determination and Power. Wiley.

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