Centre for Statistical & Survey Methodology Working Paper Series

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Variational approximations facilitate approximate inference for the parameters in complex statistical models and provide fast, deterministic alternatives to Monte Carlo methods. However, much of the contemporary literature on variational approximations is in Computer Science rather than Statistics, and uses terminology, notation and examples from the former field. In this article we explain variational approximation in statistical terms. In particular, we illustrate the ideas of variational approximation using examples that are familiar to statisticians.