Suppose we have a small set of numbers (5 to 10 observations), and we’re trying to fit a distribution to this set. Also, we know that all numbers are positive. I tried to fit lognormal, but I’m not sure how good my estimates are since the sample is very small; also I’m not sure how whether it is enough to look at goodness-of-fit test due to the small sample size.

Any suggestions on how to tackle this issue (i.e., to be more confident, certain, about my estimates)?

  • $\begingroup$ It's not clear if you're asking about how to assess whether the distribution is lognormal or about the uncertainity of the estimates of the lognormal parameters. In the former case, graphical investigation, using for instance boxplots and histograms, can give you a very rough idea about the distribution, but apart from that, there really isn't much that you can do with only 5-10 observations. $\endgroup$
    – MånsT
    Jul 10, 2012 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ my main concern is not the distribution, but how good my estimates are assuming i know the distribution... $\endgroup$
    – user9292
    Jul 10, 2012 at 15:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That, at least, is possible to make statements about. :) It would help if you told us which estimators you used for the parameters. $\endgroup$
    – MånsT
    Jul 10, 2012 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


I would not recommend using a goodness of fit test for such small sample. For example, if you simulate $5-10$ observations from a log-normal distribution, then the Shapiro-Wilk normallity test would fail in the sense that the associated p-value would be higher than $0.05$ more than $30\% +$ of the times, failing to provide the desired power/signficance level. See the following R code.

count = rep(0,10000)

for(i in 1:10000){
x = exp(rnorm(10))
if(shapiro.test(x)$p.value>0.05) count[i] = 1 


You might consider Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE) and quantifying the accuracy of the estimation by constructing confidence-likelihood intervals for the parameters. One option consists of using the profile likelihood of the parameters $(\mu,\sigma)$.

In this case, the MLE of $(\mu,\sigma)$ for a sample $(x_1,...,x_n)$ are

$$\hat\mu= \dfrac{1}{n}\sum_{j=1}^n\log(x_j);\,\,\,\hat\sigma^2=\dfrac{1}{n}\sum_{j=1}^n(\log(x_j)-\hat\mu)^2.$$

Now, you can use the well-known result that a likelihood interval of level $0.147$ has an approximate confidence of $95\%$. The following R code shows how to calculate these intervals for $\mu$ and $\sigma$ numerically and how to plot the profile likelihoods for your sample.

# Your data
dat = c(0.6695,0.5968, 0.7641, 0.7252, 0.7779)
n = length(dat)

# Profile likelihood of mu
p.mu = function(mu){
muh = mean(log(dat))
return(  (sum((log(dat)-muh)^2)/sum((log(dat)-mu)^2))^(0.5*n)  )

# Plot of the profile
vec = seq(-0.75,0,0.01)
rmvec = lapply(vec,p.mu)


p.muint = function(mu) return(p.mu(mu)-0.147)

# Approximate 95% confidence interval of mu

# Profile likelihood of sigma
p.sigma = function(sigma){
muh = mean(log(dat))
sigmah = sqrt(mean((log(dat)-muh)^2))
return(  (sigmah/sigma)^n*exp(0.5*n)*exp(-0.5*n*sigmah^2/sigma^2) )

# Plot of the profile
vec1 = seq(0.01,0.3,0.001)
rsvec = lapply(vec1,p.sigma)


p.sigmaint = function(sigma) return(p.sigma(sigma)-0.147)

# Approximate 95% confidence interval of sigma

I hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the help. I truly appreciate it. I'm going through it trying to understand it... I tried it on my sample, but it gave me 2 errors : Error in uniroot(p.muint, c(-1, 0)) : f() values at end points not of opposite sign Error in uniroot(p.sigmaint, c(0.4, 0.75)) : f() values at end points not of opposite sign $\endgroup$
    – user9292
    Jul 10, 2012 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ here is my sample: dat <- c(0.6695,0.5968, 0.7641, 0.7252, 0.7779) $\endgroup$
    – user9292
    Jul 10, 2012 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @act00 Fixed for your sample! Please, have a look. $\endgroup$
    – user10525
    Jul 10, 2012 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you so much. Let me please go over to digest everything and will ask some questions. Thanks again!!! $\endgroup$
    – user9292
    Jul 10, 2012 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it good that Shapiro-Wilk rejects > 30% of the time, given that the sample isn't in fact Normal? And of course that number depends on the parameters of the lognormal, holding the sample size fixed, as the lognormal can be made arbitrarily close to a Normal. $\endgroup$
    – jbowman
    Jul 10, 2012 at 18:44

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