Statnote 31:analysis of covariance

Armstrong, Richard and Hilton, Anthony (2012). Statnote 31:analysis of covariance. Microbiologist, 13 , pp. 38-39.

Abstract

Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) is a useful method of ‘error control’, i.e., it can reduce the size of the error variance in an experimental or observational study. An initial measure obtained before the experiment, which is closely related to the final measurement, is used to adjust the final measurements, thus reducing the error variance. When this method is used to reduce the error term, the X variable must not itself be affected by the experimental treatments, because part of the treatment effect would then also be removed. Hence, the method can only be safely used when X is measured before an experiment. A further limitation of the analysis is that only the linear effect of Y on X is being removed and it is possible that Y could be a curvilinear function of X. A question often raised is whether ANCOVA should be used routinely in experiments rather than a randomized blocks or split-plot design, which may also reduce the error variance. The answer to this question depends on the relative precision of the difference methods with reference to each scenario. Considerable judgment is often required to select the best experimental design and statistical help should be sought at an early stage of an investigation.

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