Tests for nominal variables

Descriptive statistics

Tests for one measurement variable

Tests for multiple measurement variables

Multiple tests


One-way anova: Introduction

When to use it

Analysis of variance (anova) is the most commonly used technique for comparing the means of groups of measurement data. There are lots of different experimental designs that can be analyzed with different kinds of anova; in this handbook, I describe only one-way anova, nested anova and two-way anova.

In a one-way anova (also known as a single-classification anova), there is one measurement variable and one nominal variable. Multiple observations of the measurement variable are made for each value of the nominal variable. For example, you could measure the amount of transcript of a particular gene for multiple samples taken from arm muscle, heart muscle, brain, liver, and lung. The transcript amount would be the measurement variable, and the tissue type (arm muscle, brain, etc.) would be the nominal variable.

Null hypothesis

The statistical null hypothesis is that the means of the measurement variable are the same for the different categories of data; the alternative hypothesis is that they are not all the same.

How the test works

The basic idea is to calculate the mean of the observations within each group, then compare the variance among these means to the average variance within each group. Under the null hypothesis that the observations in the different groups all have the same mean, the weighted among-group variance will be the same as the within-group variance. As the means get further apart, the variance among the means increases. The test statistic is thus the ratio of the variance among means divided by the average variance within groups, or Fs. This statistic has a known distribution under the null hypothesis, so the probability of obtaining the observed Fs under the null hypothesis can be calculated.

The shape of the F-distribution depends on two degrees of freedom, the degrees of freedom of the numerator (among-group variance) and degrees of freedom of the denominator (within-group variance). The among-group degrees of freedom is the number of groups minus one. The within-groups degrees of freedom is the total number of observations, minus the number of groups. Thus if there are n observations in a groups, numerator degrees of freedom is a-1 and denominator degrees of freedom is n-a.

Steps in performing a one-way anova

  1. Decide whether you are going to do a Model I or Model II anova.
  2. If you are going to do a Model I anova, decide whether you will do planned comparisons of means or unplanned comparisons of means. A planned comparison is where you compare the means of certain subsets of the groups that you have chosen in advance. In the arm muscle, heart muscle, brain, liver, lung example, an obvious planned comparison might be muscle (arm and heart) vs. non-muscle (brain, liver, lung) tissue. An unplanned comparison is done when you look at the data and then notice that something looks interesting and compare it. If you looked at the data and then noticed that the lung had the highest expression and the brain had the lowest expression, and you then compared just lung vs. brain, that would be an unplanned comparison. The important point is that planned comparisons must be planned before analyzing the data (or even collecting them, to be strict about it).
  3. If you are going to do planned comparsions, decide which comparisons you will do. If you are going to do unplanned comparisons, decide which technique you will use.
  4. Collect your data.
  5. Make sure the data do not violate the assumptions of the anova (normality and homoscedasticity) too severely. If the data do not fit the assumptions well enough, try to find a data transformation that makes them fit. If this doesn't work, do a Welch's anova or a Kruskal–Wallis test instead of a one-way anova.
  6. If the data do fit the assumptions of an anova, test the heterogeneity of the means.
  7. If you are doing a Model I anova, do your planned or unplanned comparisons among means.
  8. If the means are significantly heterogeneous, and you are doing a Model II anova, estimate the variance components (the proportion of variation that is among groups and the proportion that is within groups).

Similar tests

If you have only two groups, you can do a Student's t-test. This is mathematically equivalent to an anova, so if all you'll ever do is comparisons of two groups, you might as well use t-tests. If you're going to do some comparisons of two groups, and some with more than two groups, it will probably be less confusing if you call all of your tests one-way anovas.

If there are two or more nominal variables, you should use a two-way anova, a nested anova, or something more complicated that I won't cover here. If you're tempted to do a very complicated anova, you may want to break your experiment down into a set of simpler experiments for the sake of comprehensibility.

If the data severely violate the assumptions of the anova, you can use Welch's anova if the variances are heterogeneous or use the Kruskal-Wallace test if the distributions are non-normal.

Power analysis

To do a power analysis for a one-way anova is kind of tricky, because you need to decide what kind of effect size you're looking for. If you're mainly interested in the overall significance test, the sample size needed is a function of the standard deviation of the group means. Your estimate of the standard deviation of means that you're looking for may be based on a pilot experiment or published literature on similar experiments.

If you're mainly interested in the planned or unplanned comparisions of means, there are other ways of expressing the effect size. Your effect could be a difference between the smallest and largest means, for example, that you would want to be significant by a Tukey-Kramer test. There are ways of doing a power analysis with this kind of effect size, but I don't know much about them and won't go over them here.

To do a power analysis for a one-way anova using the free program G*Power, choose "F tests" from the "Test family" menu and "ANOVA: Fixed effects, omnibus, one-way" from the "Statistical test" menu. To determine the effect size, click on the Determine button and enter the number of groups, the standard deviation within the groups (the program assumes they're all equal), and the mean you want to see in each group. Usually you'll leave the sample sizes the same for all groups (a balanced design), but if you're planning an unbalanced anova with bigger samples in some groups than in others, you can enter different relative sample sizes. Then click on the "Calculate and transfer to main window" button; it calculates the effect size and enters it into the main window. Enter your alpha (usually 0.05) and power (typically 0.80 or 0.90) and hit the Calculate button. The result is the total sample size in the whole experiment; you'll have to do a little math to figure out the sample size for each group.

As an example, let's say you're studying transcript amount of some gene in arm muscle, heart muscle, brain, liver, and lung. Based on previous research, you decide that you'd like the anova to be significant if the means were 10 units in arm muscle, 10 units in heart muscle, 15 units in brain, 15 units in liver, and 15 units in lung. The standard deviation of transcript amount within a tissue type that you've seen in previous research is 12 units. Entering these numbers in G*Power, along with an alpha of 0.05 and a power of 0.80, the result is a total sample size of 295. Since there are five groups, you'd need 59 observations per group to have an 80 percent chance of having a significant (P<0.05) one-way anova.

Further reading

Sokal and Rohlf, pp. 206-217.

Zar, pp. 177-195.

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This page was last revised September 11, 2009. Its address is It may be cited as pp. 123-126 in: McDonald, J.H. 2009. Handbook of Biological Statistics (2nd ed.). Sparky House Publishing, Baltimore, Maryland.

©2009 by John H. McDonald. You can probably do what you want with this content; see the permissions page for details.