Predictor variables in statistical models can be treated as either continuous or categorical.

Usually, this is a very straightforward decision about which way to specify each predictor.

Categorical predictors, like treatment group, marital status, or highest educational degree should be specified as categorical.

Likewise, continuous predictors, like age, systolic blood pressure, or percentage of ground cover should be specified as continuous.

But there are numerical predictors that aren’t continuous. And these can sometimes make sense to treat as continuous or sometimes make sense as categorical.

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One of the most important concepts in data analysis is that the analysis needs to be appropriate for the scale of measurement of the variable. The focus of these decisions about scale tends to focus on levels of measurement: nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio.

These levels of measurement tell you about the amount of information in the variable. But there are other ways of distinguishing the scales that are also important and often overlooked.

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