Data are simply facts or figures — bits of information, but not information itself. When data are processed, interpreted, organized, structured or presented so as to make them meaningful or useful, they are called information. Information provides context for data.
For example, a list of dates — data — is meaningless without the information that makes the dates relevant (dates of holiday).
“Data” and “information” are intricately tied together, whether one is recognizing them as two separate words or using them interchangeably, as is common today. Whether they are used interchangeably depends somewhat on the usage of “data” — its context and grammar.
Examples of Data and Information
- The history of temperature readings all over the world for the past 100 years is data. If this data is organized and analyzed to find that global temperature is rising, then that is information.
- The number of visitors to a website by country is an example of data. Finding out that traffic from the U.S. is increasing while that from Australia is decreasing is meaningful information.
- Often data is required to back up a claim or conclusion (information) derived or deduced from it. For example, before a drug is approved by the FDA, the manufacturer must conduct clinical trials and present a lot of data to demonstrate that the drug is safe.
Data Vs. Information
|Data versus Information comparison chart|
|Meaning||Data is raw, unorganized facts that need to be processed. Data can be something simple and seemingly random and useless until it is organized.||When data is processed, organized, structured or presented in a given context so as to make it useful, it is called information.|
|Example||Each student’s test score is one piece of data.||The average score of a class or of the entire school is information that can be derived from the given data.|
|Etymology||“Data” comes from a singular Latin word, datum, which originally meant “something given.” Its early usage dates back to the 1600s. Over time “data” has become the plural of datum.||“Information” is an older word that dates back to the 1300s and has Old French and Middle English origins. It has always referred to “the act of informing, ” usually in regard to education, instruction, or other knowledge communication.|