Tips for Using Statistical Power Effectively in Experiment Design

Tips for Using Statistical Power Effectively in Experiment Design

Designing a successful statistical experiment requires consideration of a variety of factors. Perhaps the most critical is statistical power. Power is the probability that your test will detect an effect, if there is one there to be detected at all. This is a key component of making sure your study will yield reliable and valid results. Without adequate power, even a well-designed experiment will fail to provide conclusive evidence, leading to potentially misleading conclusions. This article will go through five key tips to using statistical power effectively in the design phase of an experiment.  

Understanding Statistical Power

Statistical power is the ability to reject the null hypothesis correctly. High statistical power indicates that a study has a greater chance of identifying a true effect while lower power increases the risk of a Type II error.  

Power is influenced by a few different factors. First is sample size where increasing the number of observations in a study also increases the power. Second is effect size, or the magnitude of difference between groups being detected, where larger effect sizes are easier to detect and lead to greater power. Third is the predetermined significance level, or alpha, where a lower alpha level is associated with reduced power. Finally is variability in the dataset where decreased variability makes it easier to detect differences, increasing power.  

Determining the Appropriate Sample Size

The main goal of a statistical power analysis is to determine the correct sample size needed before a research project is implemented. It is critical to outline the research objectives before calculating the sample size, including knowing the key outcomes and hypotheses to test.  

In order to calculate the sample size, the following variables must be known: desired effect size, significance level (alpha), and desired power level. This power level is traditionally set to 80%, which means that there is an 80% probability of correctly rejecting the null hypothesis when it is false. Each type of statistical test being run will then have its own formula for determining the proper sample size using these variables. Various software options are available to conduct these calculations, including R, SPSS, and G*Power.  

Choosing the Right Effect Size

Selecting the correct effect size is essential for determining an appropriate sample size and ensuring that the results from the experiment are useful. Effect size quantifies the strength of an effect or relationship in the data. Common effect sizes are Cohen’s d, used for comparing the mean of two groups, the odds ratio, used in logistic regressions, and the correlation coefficient, used to measure the strength and direction of a linear relationship.  

Choosing the right effect size can be the most challenging part of power analysis and experiment design. Often, these values are found from reviewing previous research done in the field. If these do not exist, pilot studies with a limited amount of observations can be done. Practical significance can also be considered based on the field and application of the final study results.  

Using the Correct Statistical Test

The final element of a power calculation is using all the variables in an equation specific to a statistical test. Ensuring that the correct formula for the proper statistical test is used is critical to a proper power analysis.  

There are many tools to help determine what statistical test needs to be run. Briefly, it is necessary to understand the types of data available (such as categorical or interval data) as well as what specifically will be compared in the study (means, proportions, counts, etc.).  

Planning for Dropouts and Missing Data

Finally, in any real world study using human data, it is also important to account for dropouts and missing data. If a sample size is calculated to meet 80% power, but then a proportion of the study participants recruited drop out or submit missing data, then the study is now underpowered and you may miss identifying an effect.  

Typically, this problem is accounted for before the study recruitment process begins. Buffers of 10% or 20% are generally added to any calculated sample size to ensure that even if data is lost in the study process, the final, complete dataset will still yield enough power.  


Effectively utilizing statistical power in experiment design is critical for ensuring the reliability and validity of your research findings. Using these tips will help enhance the credibility of results and lead to more meaningful and actionable insights from an experiment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *