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normal distribution

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A normal distribution is an arrangement of a data set in which most values cluster in the middle of the range and the rest taper off symmetrically toward either extreme.

Height is one simple example of something that follows a normal distribution pattern: Most people are of average height, the numbers of people that are taller and shorter than average are fairly equal and a very small (and still roughly equivalent) number of people are either extremely tall or extremely short.

Here’s an example of a normal distribution curve:

normal curve

A graphical representation of a normal distribution is sometimes called a bell curve because of its flared shape. The precise shape can vary according to the distribution of the population but the peak is always in the middle and the curve is always symmetrical. In a normal distribution, the mean, mode and median are all the same.

Normal distribution curves are sometimes designed with a histogram inside the curve. The graphs are commonly used in mathematics, statistics and corporate data analytics.

Khan Academy provides an introduction to charting normal distributions:

This was last updated in November 2013

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