Continuous data refers to data that can take on an infinite number of values within a given range. This data can generally be divided into fractions and decimals (Christman & Badgett, 2009; Evans, 2019).
It is contrasted with discrete data, often also called discontinuous data, which works only in whole numbers (e.g number of students in a class).
Examples of data that might be considered continuous include height, weight, time intervals, distance, and temperature. More examples are listed below.
Continuous Data Examples
The height of a person can be any value within a certain range, depending on the precision of the measurement tool. For instance, a person can be 5.6 feet, 5.61 feet, 5.612 feet, and so on. The data is continuous because there’s no distinct separation between possible height values within a given range.
Temperature, when measured in degrees, can take on an infinite number of values within a given range. For instance, the temperature outside might be 72.5°F or 72.51°F or 72.512°F, depending on how precise the thermometer is.
The time it takes someone to complete a task can vary and can be measured down to fractions of a second. For example, an athlete might finish a race in 9.58 seconds, 9.581 seconds, or 9.5812 seconds, depending on the precision of the timing equipment.
The weight of an object can vary based on minute changes and can be measured to great precision. For example, a fruit might weigh 150 grams, 150.1 grams, or 150.12 grams, depending on the accuracy of the weighing scale. The data is continuous because weight can take on countless values within a specified range.
The volume of a liquid in a container can have numerous possible measurements based on the precision of the measuring tool. For instance, a beaker might contain 100 ml, 100.5 ml, or 100.55 ml of water, reflecting the tool’s granularity.
The distance someone or something travels can be infinitely variable, depending on the measurement’s accuracy. A car’s trip might cover 50 miles, 50.1 miles, or 50.12 miles, based on how precisely the distance is tracked.
While age is commonly rounded to whole numbers in everyday conversation, it’s fundamentally continuous. A person might be 25 years old, 25.5 years, or 25.51 years, with the exact age varying by the second.
8. Light Intensity
The intensity of light from a source can be measured in units like lumens and can take on a vast range of values. A light bulb might emit 800 lumens, 800.2 lumens, or 800.25 lumens, depending on the precision of the light meter used.
9. Air Pressure
Air pressure, typically measured in units like atmospheres or pascals, can vary continuously based on altitude, weather conditions, and other factors. For instance, the atmospheric pressure at sea level might be 1013.25 hPa, 1013.255 hPa, or 1013.2555 hPa, depending on the precision of the barometer used.
10. Sound Frequency
The frequency of a sound wave, measured in hertz (Hz), can take on countless values within a specific range. A musical note might have a frequency of 440 Hz, 440.1 Hz, or 440.12 Hz, and the exact frequency can vary with the precision of the measuring equipment.
11. Electrical Current
The current flowing through an electrical circuit, measured in amperes, can have a wide range of values based on the components and conditions of the circuit. For example, a device might draw a current of 2 amperes, 2.01 amperes, or 2.012 amperes, depending on the precision of the ammeter used.
12. pH Level
The pH level of a solution indicates its acidity or alkalinity and can be measured with great precision. A solution might have a pH value of 7 (neutral), 7.01, or 7.012, with minute differences indicating significant chemical variations.
13. Wind Speed
The speed at which wind travels can be measured in units like miles per hour or meters per second and can vary continuously. For instance, on a breezy day, the wind might be blowing at 15 mph, 15.1 mph, or 15.12 mph, with the exact speed fluctuating based on various atmospheric conditions and the precision of the anemometer used.
The salinity of a water sample, typically measured in parts per thousand (ppt) or practical salinity units (PSU), can vary continuously based on the dissolved salt content. For example, seawater might have a salinity of 35 ppt, 35.1 ppt, or 35.12 ppt, with minute differences indicating variations in salt concentration.
15. Blood Glucose Level
The concentration of glucose in a person’s blood, commonly measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), can take on a wide range of values. A person might have a blood glucose level of 100 mg/dL, 100.1 mg/dL, or 100.12 mg/dL, depending on factors like food intake, physical activity, and the precision of the measuring device.
16. Magnetic Flux Density
The strength of a magnetic field, measured in teslas (T) or gauss, can be continuous within a specific range. A magnet might produce a magnetic flux density of 0.5 T, 0.51 T, or 0.512 T, with the exact value being determined by the magnet’s properties and the precision of the measurement tool.
17. Humidity Level
The relative humidity in the atmosphere, expressed as a percentage, indicates the amount of moisture in the air compared to the maximum amount the air can hold at a specific temperature. Humidity can be 60%, 60.1%, or 60.12%, with variations influenced by weather conditions, geographic location, and the accuracy of the hygrometer used.
18. Soil Moisture Content
The amount of water present in soil, typically measured as a volume fraction or percentage, can vary continuously based on recent rainfall, irrigation, and other factors. A soil sample might have a moisture content of 25%, 25.1%, or 25.12%, and the exact value can provide insights into the soil’s suitability for specific crops or construction projects.
19. Dissolved Oxygen Content
The amount of oxygen dissolved in a water body, usually measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or parts per million (ppm), can fluctuate continuously based on water temperature, salinity, and biological activity. For instance, a pond might have a dissolved oxygen content of 6 mg/L, 6.1 mg/L, or 6.12 mg/L, with these variations affecting aquatic life health.
20. Elasticity Modulus
The modulus of elasticity, often measured in pascals (Pa) or gigapascals (GPa), quantifies a material’s tendency to deform elastically (non-permanently) when a force is applied. Different materials can have values like 200 GPa, 200.1 GPa, or 200.12 GPa, and these subtle differences can determine their suitability for specific engineering applications.
21. Radioactive Decay Rate
The rate at which a radioactive material decays, generally measured in becquerels (Bq) or curies (Ci), can change continuously based on the isotope and environmental factors. A sample might exhibit a decay rate of 500 Bq, 500.1 Bq, or 500.12 Bq, and this rate provides insights into the material’s half-life and potential hazards.
The viscosity of a fluid, often measured in poise or centipoise, represents its resistance to flow. For example, a liquid might have a viscosity of 10 centipoise, 10.1 centipoise, or 10.12 centipoise, and these variations can affect the fluid’s behavior in various applications, from lubrication to food processing.
The luminance of a surface, usually measured in candelas per square meter (cd/m²), describes the brightness emitted or reflected from that surface. For instance, a display screen might have a luminance of 300 cd/m², 300.1 cd/m², or 300.12 cd/m², with these nuances influencing visual comfort and clarity for viewers.
Turbidity measures the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles. Expressed in nephelometric turbidity units (NTU), water samples can exhibit values like 15 NTU, 15.1 NTU, or 15.12 NTU. Differences in turbidity can indicate the presence of pollutants, microorganisms, or other suspended matter affecting water quality.
25. Refractive Index
The refractive index of a substance, often denoted as “n,” quantifies how much light is bent, or refracted, when entering the substance from another medium. Different materials can have refractive indices like 1.5, 1.51, or 1.512, and these variations play a crucial role in optics, determining the behavior of lenses, prisms, and other optical components.
Types of Continuous Data
Continuous data is generally categorized into interval, ratio, and time series categories.
1. Interval Data
Interval data is continuous data where the difference between two values is meaningful, but there’s no true zero point. This means that while we can interpret the difference between two values, the ratio of these values might not hold any significance (Das, 2023). A classic example is temperature measured in Celsius or Fahrenheit. While the difference between 20°C and 30°C is the same as between 30°C and 40°C (a 10-degree difference in each case), it doesn’t mean that 20°C is “twice as hot” as 10°C. This is because these temperature scales do not have a true zero point where the absence of the attribute (in this case, heat) is represented.
2. Ratio Data
Ratio data is similar to interval data in that the difference between two values is meaningful. However, ratio data has a clear, inherent zero point which represents the complete absence of the attribute being measured (Janicak & Zreiqat, 2023). This true zero allows for the comparison of ratios, making statements like “Value A is twice as much as Value B” meaningful. Examples include height, weight, and age. For instance, 10 years is indeed twice as long as 5 years, and 0 years represents a complete absence of age.
3. Time Series Data
This type of continuous data involves measurements taken at different points in time. Time series data is crucial for understanding trends, patterns, and fluctuations over a period (Aghabozorgi, Shirkhorshidi & Wah, 2015). It’s widely used in finance to track stock prices, in meteorology to monitor weather changes, and in economics to observe the GDP growth of a country. The continuous nature of time series data allows for detailed analysis of changes and can be instrumental in forecasting future trends based on historical data.
Benefits of Continuous Data
One of the most prominent benefits of continuous variables is their ability to offer high levels of precision and granularity.
Unlike discrete data, which has distinct and separate values, continuous data can take on an infinite number of values within a given range.
This granularity allows for detailed measurements, capturing minute differences that can be crucial in various fields (De Vaus, 2001). For example, in scientific experiments, slight changes in measurements can lead to significantly different outcomes, making the precision of continuous variables invaluable.
Continuous data is also amenable to a broad range of statistical tests and modeling techniques.
From basic statistical measures like mean, median, and standard deviation to more advanced techniques such as regression analysis, we can do much more with continuous data than other forms, such as qualitative datasets (Katz, 2006).
This data’s detailed nature and the vast range of statistical techniques it supports makes it ideal for building predictive models.
Whether it’s forecasting stock market movements, predicting patient outcomes in healthcare, or estimating product demands in business, continuous data provides a solid foundation for building reliable predictive models.
See Also: Discrete Variable Examples
Aghabozorgi, S., Shirkhorshidi, A. S., & Wah, T. Y. (2015). Time-series clustering–a decade review. Information systems, 53, 16-38. (Source)
Christmann, E. P., & Badgett, J. L. (2009). Interpreting Assessment Data: Statistical Techniques You Can Use. New York: NSTA Press.
Das, A. P. (2023). Understanding Python Programming. Arpita Priyadarshini Das.
De Vaus, D. A. (2001). Research Design in Social Research. New York: SAGE Publications.
Evans, C. W. (2019). Engineering Mathematics: A Programmed Approach (3rd ed.). CRC Press.
Janicak, C. A., & Zreiqat, M. (2023). Applied Statistics in Occupational Safety and Health. Bernan Press.
Katz, M. (2006). Study Design and Statistical Analysis: A Practical Guide for Clinicians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]