Currently I have data (true population size is unknown). There are n data points in descending order, and we know the values of 25% and 50% percentile, say x1 and x2. How can I estimate if the sample size is sufficient such that x1, x2 are within 5% of margin of errors of x1 and x2?

For example, suppose n=1000 and data={4500, 621, 500,....0.001}, and the 250-th, 500-th observations are x1=200 and x2=50. How can I know if n=1000 is big enough such that even if increasing n, x1=200 +/- 10 and x2=50 +/- 2.5?

  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b Thanks. I re-edit the question and wish now it is more clear. $\endgroup$
    – TripleH
    May 24, 2017 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


It is possible to put a confidence interval around an entire empirical CDF using the Dvoretzky-Kiefer-Wolfowitz inequality.

For a sample of size $n$ the empirical CDF will be within $\varepsilon$ of the true CDF with a confidence level of $1- \alpha, $ where

$$\varepsilon =\sqrt{\left( \frac{1}{2n} \right) \ln \left( \frac{2}{\alpha} \right)} $$

For $n=1000$ and a confidence level of 95% ( $\alpha = 0.05$), $\varepsilon \approx 0.0429$

Using this you can draw the confidence bounds on your empirical CDF and put confidence intervals on your estimated percentiles.

  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer, and very helpful. However, I see a potential problem. If we are plotting $\hat F$, these bounds are "vertical". The confidence bounds on the quantiles however would go "horizontally". But the DKW inequality doesn't depend on $x$, hence for percentiles close to 1 (say $p=.99$) we can never get an upper bound on the quantile using this approach. Am I making any sense? Do you have any ideas on how to handle this? $\endgroup$
    – knrumsey
    May 26, 2017 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ There are at least two other approaches. There is a binomial-based distribution-free interval. It uses order statistics. Or you could use a resampling approach. Both of these should avoid the bounding problem you mention for extreme percentile estimation. $\endgroup$
    – soakley
    May 26, 2017 at 21:11

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