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In a balanced design, researchers allocate the same number of units across all treatment groups. It has been believed as a rule of thumb among some researchers in agriculture. Sometimes, an unbalanced design outperforms a balanced design. Given a specific parameter of interest, researchers can design an experiment by unevenly distributing experimental units to increase statistical information about the parameter of interest. An additional way of improving an experiment is an adaptive design (e.g., spending the total sample size in multiple steps). It is helpful to have some knowledge about the parameter of interest to design an experiment. In the initial phase of an experiment, a researcher may spend a portion of the total sample size to learn about the parameter of interest. In the later phase, the remaining portion of the sample size can be distributed in order to gain more information about the parameter of interest. Though such ideas have existed in statistical literature, they have not been applied broadly in agricultural studies. In this article, we used simulations to demonstrate the superiority of the experimental designs over the balanced designs under three practical situations: comparing two groups, studying a dose-response relationship with right-censored data, and studying a synergetic effect of two treatments. The simulations showed that an objective-specific design provides smaller error in parameter estimation and higher statistical power in hypothesis testing when compared to a balanced design. We also conducted an adaptive experimental design applied to a dose-response study with right-censored data to quantify the effect of ethanol on weed control. Retrospective simulations supported the benefit of this adaptive design as well. All researchers face different practical situations, and appropriate experimental designs will help utilize available resources efficiently.


This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Published in PLoS ONE by Public Library of Science. Available via doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257472.