Selection of the number of latent variables (LVs) to include in a partial least squares (PLS) model is an important step in the data analysis. Inclusion of too few or too many LVs may lead to, respectively, under or over-fitting of the data and subsequently result in poor future model performance. One well-known sign of over-fitting is the appearance of noise in regression coefficients; this often takes the form of a reduction in apparent structure and the presence of sharp peaks with a high degree of directional oscillation, features which are usually estimated subjectively. In this work, a simple method for quantifying the shape and size of a regression coefficient is presented. This measure can be combined with an indicator of model bias (e.g. root mean square error) to aid in estimation of the appropriate number of LVs to include in a PLS model. The performance of the proposed method is evaluated on simulated and and real NIR spectroscopy datasets sets and compared with several existing methods. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.