What is the difference between a population and a sample?

To understand the basic foundation for hypothesis testing and other types of inferential statistics, it’s important to understand how a sample and a population differ.

A population is a collection of people, items, or events about which you want to make inferences. It is not always convenient or possible to examine every member of an entire population. For example, it is not practical to count the bruises on all apples picked at an orchard. It is possible, however, to count the bruises on a set of apples taken from that population. This subset of the population is called a sample.

A sample is a subset of people, items, or events from a larger population that you collect and analyze to make inferences. To represent the population well, a sample should be randomly collected and adequately large.

If the sample is random and large enough, you can use the information collected from the sample to make inferences about the population. For example, you could count the number of apples with bruises in a random sample and then use a hypothesis test to estimate the percentage of all the apples that have bruises.

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