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My team manages a survey that has been reporting for many years as "relative sample error" a range of figures which are in fact the Xs in "+/- X percent" of an estimate where X is chosen to make up a 95 percent confidence interval. So in fact they are about 1.96 times the relative standard error. The users - who are not statisticians - appreciate these numbers because they can easily turn them into a confidence interval (which would take them one more step than they wanted if we quoted actual standard errors).

My question is, what is the correct way to describe these figures?

  • "Relative standard error" is certainly wrong;
  • "1.96 * RSE" is clumsy and not quite correct (because they might be created with a bootstrap method which does not calculate the confidence interval that way)
  • "Relative half confidence interval" is probably correct but not very plain English
  • "95 percent confidence interval, expressed as plus or minus percentage of the estimate" is correct but verbose

Putting aside any questions about how these are calculated, any views on good terminology?

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I've never heard a specific term for exactly that thing, but my closest guesses would be "relative margin of error" or "margin of error of X percent". –  G. Jay Kerns Jan 16 '12 at 2:40
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

"Margin of Error" is fairly common and relatable term. Margin of error is commonly expressed as the radius of the confidence interval, Wikipedia entry. You could include a footnote or reference to details on your 95% confidence intervals.

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