Ward’s method tends to join clusters with a small number of observations and is strongly biased toward producing clusters with approximately the same number of observations. It is also very sensitive to outliers. See Milligan (1980).

The distance between two clusters is the average distance between pairs of observations. Average linkage tends to join clusters with small variances and is slightly biased toward producing clusters with the same variance. See Sokal and Michener (1958).

The distance between two clusters is defined as the squared Euclidean distance between their means. The centroid method is more robust to outliers than most other hierarchical methods but in other respects might not perform as well as Ward’s method or average linkage. See Milligan (1980).

The distance between two clusters is the minimum distance between an observation in one cluster and an observation in the other cluster. Single linkage has many desirable theoretical properties but has performed poorly in Monte Carlo studies. See Jardine and Sibson (1971), Fisher and Van Ness (1971), Hartigan (1981), and Milligan (1980). Single linkage was originated by Florek et al. (1951a, 1951b) and later reinvented by McQuitty (1957) and Sneath (1957).

By imposing no constraints on the shape of clusters, single linkage sacrifices performance in the recovery of compact clusters in return for the ability to detect elongated and irregular clusters. Single linkage tends to chop off the tails of distributions before separating the main clusters. See Hartigan (1981).

The distance between two clusters is the maximum distance between an observation in one cluster and an observation in the other cluster. Complete linkage is strongly biased toward producing clusters with approximately equal diameters and can be severely distorted by moderate outliers. See Milligan (1980).