For predictive purposes it is often desirable to understand the shape of the underlying distribution of the population. To determine this underlying distribution, it is common to fit the observed distribution to a theoretical distribution by comparing the frequencies observed in the data to the expected frequencies of the theoretical distribution (i.e., a Chi-square goodness of fit test).

Which Distribution to use. As described above, certain types of variables follow specific distributions. Variables whose values are determined by an infinite number of independent random events will be distributed following the normal distribution, whereas variables whose values are the result of an extremely rare event would follow the Poisson distribution. The major distributions that have been proposed for modeling survival or failure times are the exponential (and linear exponential) distribution, the Weibull distribution of extreme events, and the Gompertz distribution. Types of Distributions contains a number of distributions and a brief example of what type of data would most commonly follow a specific distribution as well as the probability density function (pdf) for each distribution.