Analysis Types

Descriptive Statistics – Types, Methods and Examples

Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics is a branch of statistics that deals with the summarization and description of collected data. This type of statistics is used to simplify and present data in a manner that is easy to understand, often through visual or numerical methods. Descriptive statistics is primarily concerned with measures of central tendency, variability, and distribution, as well as graphical representations of data.

Here are the main components of descriptive statistics:

  • Measures of Central Tendency: These provide a summary statistic that represents the center point or typical value of a dataset. The most common measures of central tendency are the mean (average), median (middle value), and mode (most frequent value).
  • Measures of Dispersion or Variability: These provide a summary statistic that represents the spread of values in a dataset. Common measures of dispersion include the range (difference between the highest and lowest values), variance (average of the squared differences from the mean), standard deviation (square root of the variance), and interquartile range (difference between the upper and lower quartiles).
  • Measures of Position: These are used to understand the distribution of values within a dataset. They include percentiles and quartiles.
  • Graphical Representations: Data can be visually represented using various methods like bar graphs, histograms, pie charts, box plots, and scatter plots. These visuals provide a clear, intuitive way to understand the data.
  • Measures of Association: These measures provide insight into the relationships between variables in the dataset, such as correlation and covariance.

Descriptive Statistics Types

Descriptive statistics can be classified into two types:

Measures of Central Tendency

These measures help describe the center point or average of a data set. There are three main types:

  • Mean: The average value of the dataset, obtained by adding all the data points and dividing by the number of data points.
  • Median: The middle value of the dataset, obtained by ordering all data points and picking out the one in the middle (or the average of the two middle numbers if the dataset has an even number of observations).
  • Mode: The most frequently occurring value in the dataset.

Measures of Variability (or Dispersion)

These measures describe the spread or variability of the data points in the dataset. There are four main types:

  • Range: The difference between the largest and smallest values in the dataset.
  • Variance: The average of the squared differences from the mean.
  • Standard Deviation: The square root of the variance, giving a measure of dispersion that is in the same units as the original dataset.
  • Interquartile Range (IQR): The range between the first quartile (25th percentile) and the third quartile (75th percentile), which provides a measure of variability that is resistant to outliers.

Descriptive Statistics Formulas

Sure, here are some of the most commonly used formulas in descriptive statistics:

Mean (μ or x̄):

The average of all the numbers in the dataset. It is computed by summing all the observations and dividing by the number of observations.

Formula: μ = Σx/n or x̄ = Σx/n
(where Σx is the sum of all observations and n is the number of observations)


The middle value in the dataset when the observations are arranged in ascending or descending order. If there is an even number of observations, the median is the average of the two middle numbers.


The most frequently occurring number in the dataset. There’s no formula for this as it’s determined by observation.


The difference between the highest (max) and lowest (min) values in the dataset.

Formula: Range = max – min

Variance (σ² or s²):

The average of the squared differences from the mean. Variance is a measure of how spread out the numbers in the dataset are.

Population Variance formula: σ² = Σ(x – μ)² / N
Sample Variance formula: s² = Σ(x – x̄)² / (n – 1)

(where x is each individual observation, μ is the population mean, x̄ is the sample mean, N is the size of the population, and n is the size of the sample)

Standard Deviation (σ or s):

The square root of the variance. It measures the amount of variability or dispersion for a set of data. Population Standard Deviation formula: σ = √σ²
Sample Standard Deviation formula: s = √s²

Interquartile Range (IQR):

The range between the first quartile (Q1, 25th percentile) and the third quartile (Q3, 75th percentile). It measures statistical dispersion, or how far apart the data points are.

Formula: IQR = Q3 – Q1

Descriptive Statistics Methods

Here are some of the key methods used in descriptive statistics:


This method involves arranging data into a table format, making it easier to understand and interpret. Tables often show the frequency distribution of variables.

Graphical Representation

This method involves presenting data visually to help reveal patterns, trends, outliers, or relationships between variables. There are many types of graphs used, such as bar graphs, histograms, pie charts, line graphs, box plots, and scatter plots.

Calculation of Central Tendency Measures

This involves determining the mean, median, and mode of a dataset. These measures indicate where the center of the dataset lies.

Calculation of Dispersion Measures

This involves calculating the range, variance, standard deviation, and interquartile range. These measures indicate how spread out the data is.

Calculation of Position Measures

This involves determining percentiles and quartiles, which tell us about the position of particular data points within the overall data distribution.

Calculation of Association Measures

This involves calculating statistics like correlation and covariance to understand relationships between variables.

Summary Statistics

Often, a collection of several descriptive statistics is presented together in what’s known as a “summary statistics” table. This provides a comprehensive snapshot of the data at a glanc

Descriptive Statistics Examples

Descriptive Statistics Examples are as follows:

Example 1: Student Grades

Let’s say a teacher has the following set of grades for 7 students: 85, 90, 88, 92, 78, 88, and 94. The teacher could use descriptive statistics to summarize this data:

  • Mean (average): (85 + 90 + 88 + 92 + 78 + 88 + 94)/7 = 88
  • Median (middle value): First, rearrange the grades in ascending order (78, 85, 88, 88, 90, 92, 94). The median grade is 88.
  • Mode (most frequent value): The grade 88 appears twice, more frequently than any other grade, so it’s the mode.
  • Range (difference between highest and lowest): 94 (highest) – 78 (lowest) = 16
  • Variance and Standard Deviation: These would be calculated using the appropriate formulas, providing a measure of the dispersion of the grades.

Example 2: Survey Data

A researcher conducts a survey on the number of hours of TV watched per day by people in a particular city. They collect data from 1,000 respondents and can use descriptive statistics to summarize this data:

  • Mean: Calculate the average hours of TV watched by adding all the responses and dividing by the total number of respondents.
  • Median: Sort the data and find the middle value.
  • Mode: Identify the most frequently reported number of hours watched.
  • Histogram: Create a histogram to visually display the frequency of responses. This could show, for example, that the majority of people watch 2-3 hours of TV per day.
  • Standard Deviation: Calculate this to find out how much variation there is from the average.

Importance of Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics are fundamental in the field of data analysis and interpretation, as they provide the first step in understanding a dataset. Here are a few reasons why descriptive statistics are important:

  • Data Summarization: Descriptive statistics provide simple summaries about the measures and samples you have collected. With a large dataset, it’s often difficult to identify patterns or tendencies just by looking at the raw data. Descriptive statistics provide numerical and graphical summaries that can highlight important aspects of the data.
  • Data Simplification: They simplify large amounts of data in a sensible way. Each descriptive statistic reduces lots of data into a simpler summary, making it easier to understand and interpret the dataset.
  • Identification of Patterns and Trends: Descriptive statistics can help identify patterns and trends in the data, providing valuable insights. Measures like the mean and median can tell you about the central tendency of your data, while measures like the range and standard deviation tell you about the dispersion.
  • Data Comparison: By summarizing data into measures such as the mean and standard deviation, it’s easier to compare different datasets or different groups within a dataset.
  • Data Quality Assessment: Descriptive statistics can help identify errors or outliers in the data, which might indicate issues with data collection or entry.
  • Foundation for Further Analysis: Descriptive statistics are typically the first step in data analysis. They help create a foundation for further statistical or inferential analysis. In fact, advanced statistical techniques often assume that one has first examined their data using descriptive methods.

When to use Descriptive Statistics

They can be used in a wide range of situations, including:

  • Understanding a New Dataset: When you first encounter a new dataset, using descriptive statistics is a useful first step to understand the main characteristics of the data, such as the central tendency, dispersion, and distribution.
  • Data Exploration in Research: In the initial stages of a research project, descriptive statistics can help to explore the data, identify trends and patterns, and generate hypotheses for further testing.
  • Presenting Research Findings: Descriptive statistics can be used to present research findings in a clear and understandable way, often using visual aids like graphs or charts.
  • Monitoring and Quality Control: In fields like business or manufacturing, descriptive statistics are often used to monitor processes, track performance over time, and identify any deviations from expected standards.
  • Comparing Groups: Descriptive statistics can be used to compare different groups or categories within your data. For example, you might want to compare the average scores of two groups of students, or the variance in sales between different regions.
  • Reporting Survey Results: If you conduct a survey, you would use descriptive statistics to summarize the responses, such as calculating the percentage of respondents who agree with a certain statement.

Applications of Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics are widely used in a variety of fields to summarize, represent, and analyze data. Here are some applications:

  • Business: Businesses use descriptive statistics to summarize and interpret data such as sales figures, customer feedback, or employee performance. For instance, they might calculate the mean sales for each month to understand trends, or use graphical representations like bar charts to present sales data.
  • Healthcare: In healthcare, descriptive statistics are used to summarize patient data, such as age, weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels. They are also used to describe the incidence and prevalence of diseases in a population.
  • Education: Educators use descriptive statistics to summarize student performance, like average test scores or grade distribution. This information can help identify areas where students are struggling and inform instructional decisions.
  • Social Sciences: Social scientists use descriptive statistics to summarize data collected from surveys, experiments, and observational studies. This can involve describing demographic characteristics of participants, response frequencies to survey items, and more.
  • Psychology: Psychologists use descriptive statistics to describe the characteristics of their study participants and the main findings of their research, such as the average score on a psychological test.
  • Sports: Sports analysts use descriptive statistics to summarize athlete and team performance, such as batting averages in baseball or points per game in basketball.
  • Government: Government agencies use descriptive statistics to summarize data about the population, such as census data on population size and demographics.
  • Finance and Economics: In finance, descriptive statistics can be used to summarize past investment performance or economic data, such as changes in stock prices or GDP growth rates.
  • Quality Control: In manufacturing, descriptive statistics can be used to summarize measures of product quality, such as the average dimensions of a product or the frequency of defects.

Limitations of Descriptive Statistics

While descriptive statistics are a crucial part of data analysis and provide valuable insights about a dataset, they do have certain limitations:

  • Lack of Depth: Descriptive statistics provide a summary of your data, but they can oversimplify the data, resulting in a loss of detail and potentially significant nuances.
  • Vulnerability to Outliers: Some descriptive measures, like the mean, are sensitive to outliers. A single extreme value can significantly skew your mean, making it less representative of your data.
  • Inability to Make Predictions: Descriptive statistics describe what has been observed in a dataset. They don’t allow you to make predictions or generalizations about unobserved data or larger populations.
  • No Insight into Correlations: While some descriptive statistics can hint at potential relationships between variables, they don’t provide detailed insights into the nature or strength of these relationships.
  • No Causality or Hypothesis Testing: Descriptive statistics cannot be used to determine cause and effect relationships or to test hypotheses. For these purposes, inferential statistics are needed.
  • Can Mislead: When used improperly, descriptive statistics can be used to present a misleading picture of the data. For instance, choosing to only report the mean without also reporting the standard deviation or range can hide a large amount of variability in the data.

About the author

Muhammad Hassan

Researcher, Academic Writer, Web developer