what is a standard deviation

In statistics, the standard deviation (SD, also represented by the Greek letter sigma σ or the Latin letter s) is a measure that is used to quantify the amount of variation or dispersion of a set of data values.A low standard deviation indicates that the data points tend to be close to the mean (also called the expected value) of the set, while a high standard deviation indicates that the data points are spread out over a wider range of values.

The standard deviation of a random variable, statistical population, data set, or probability distribution is the square root of its variance. It is algebraically simpler, though in practice less robust, than the average absolute deviation. A useful property of the standard deviation is that, unlike the variance, it is expressed in the same units as the data. There are also other measures of deviation from the norm, including average absolute deviation, which provide different mathematical properties from standard deviation

In addition to expressing the variability of a population, the standard deviation is commonly used to measure confidence in statistical conclusions. For example, the margin of error in polling data is determined by calculating the expected standard deviation in the results if the same poll were to be conducted multiple times. This derivation of a standard deviation is often called the “standard error” of the estimate or “standard error of the mean” when referring to a mean. It is computed as the standard deviation of all the means that would be computed from that population if an infinite number of samples were drawn and a mean for each sample were computed.