Data and Information

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A reader suggests addressing “the difference between data and information.”

Both information and data are types of knowledge, a concept for which English has numerous words. The various words are used in different ways, according to context, but here’s an effort to differentiate some of them.

information – “knowledge obtained from investigation or communication.” Detectives and journalists gather information. Just the facts, Ma’m.

data [dā’tə, dăt’ə, dä’tə] – “reliable information based on observation and record-keeping.” Scientists, marketing specialists, and government agencies gather data. For a discussion of datum and data, see this DWT post on Latin plurals.

fact – “something known to be true,” or “something that can be proved to be true.”

knowledge – “the condition of knowing.” Knowledge is the whole package of what we have learned from the experience of living. It may or may not be factual. To my knowledge, the world is flat.

Learning and erudition both indicate knowledge obtained from academic inquiry. An English professor who knows the language and literature of English and can also read Latin and a couple of modern languages can be said to have learning. The professor is learned [lûr’nĭd]. If the professor can also read Hebrew and ancient Greek and is well-read in several other academic disciplines, the word erudition [ĕr’yə-dĭsh’ən, ĕr’ə-] applies. A person so steeped in learning is erudite [ĕr’yə-dīt’, ĕr’ə-]. While it’s ok for a professor to be erudite, it’s not such a good thing for a poet. Many of T. S. Eliot’s poems are so erudite as to be pedantic. The general reader needs explanatory notes to understand them.

Scholarship is often used to indicate all the learning, data, and informed opinion that exists in a certain area of study. Ex. Civil War scholarship, George Washington scholarship, motion picture scholarship.

Lore is specialized knowledge above and beyond what most people know about a subject. Ex. movie lore, sports lore, computer lore. The word often suggests arcane learning. Ex. Gandalf is steeped in magical lore.

Science is systematized knowledge Ex. the science of light, the science of photosynthesis.

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18 thoughts on “Data and Information”

  1. In the IT industry, the difference between information and data is normally quite clear: data is the raw, undigested stuff of acquired numbers and letters. Examples of data could includeweather measurements, survey responses, and website metrics.

    Information comes from the processing of the data to derive something useful; so weather data can be processed into a synoptic chart for making a weather forecast, survey results can show the public’s response to a marketing campaign, and so on. the information is the useful idea that helps you make a decision: I’ll take an umbrella today, or we’ll go into full-scale production of our new product.

  2. For what it’s worth, here are my definitions for data, information, and knowledge.

    Data: Raw observations, without analysis. Just the facts, ma’am. (In the science world, as in the IT world, this is how “data” is used.)
    Example: Person A eats prunes and has wrinkled skin. Person B eats prunes and has wrinkled skin. Etc.

    Information: The result of data analysis.
    Example: 100% of people who eat prunes have wrinkled skin.

    Knowledge: The application of information, i.e., the meaning of information.
    Example: Eating prunes will cause your skin to be wrinkled.

    We’ll add one more term to this mix: Wisdom. Wisdom is using knowledge to make decisions that lead to productive, beneficial outcomes.
    Example: Don’t eat prunes.

    [For the record, so as to not scare prune eaters or offend the prune industry, I declare that the examples used above and the conclusions and admonition that are stated therein are not scientifically determined nor are they to be construed as accurate. Prune eating is a personal choice, and I am not attempting to dissuade prune eaters from this acceptable lifestyle choice.]

  3. By the way:

    I’ll open myself to criticism on this one, but . . .

    “Data” is plural. Example: The data ARE accurate, and THEY have been verified.

    “Datum” is singular. Example: We are missing A datum from our collection process.

    We work on quite a few scientific papers (and are listed as authors on several). We usually see “data” used as a plural. Many scientists with whom we have worked studied and learned English as a second language. As such, they were not influenced by hearing this term used incorrectly. (This is similar to studying punctuation and knowing that apostrophes are not used to make plurals, regardless of how many times a person sees the apostrophe used incorrectly.)

  4. I did a blog post on my thoughts on on data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

    *** begin quote ***

    Data is the elemental atom of the paradigm. As in chemistry, breaking data below this elemental level loses its meaning. For example, the data element “37” can be broken into “3” and “7” but it loses its meaning when you do so.

    Information is data in context. “37” can be: “37 Langley” as an address. It can be “37.com” as a web address. It can be 37 cents change.

    Knowledge is actionable information. I can go to a place in Kendall Park. I can do searches at 37 dot com.

    Wisdom is knowing the implications of knowledge. I’m wise enough not to try to sell Mercedes into the blue collar suburb of Kendall Park NJ. I understand the limitations of my knowledge. While I can’t know what I don’t know, I’m wise enough to test for boundary conditions so I don’t fall off a cliff. The nuances of knowledge are important when to use it and when not to. Where does it take you in the short and long run.


    *** end quote ***

    Not that I’m so smart, but I think it mkes sense to me. As always, I’m still learning. Hope this helps.

  5. By my own definition
    Data is a basic raw facts which is not meaningful or useful on its own while information is a processed data that is meaningful.
    Example of data are ages of students in prmary schools, scores of students in an examination. example of information is the sum of 7 and 4 is 11

  6. What exactly the life is? I’ll tell you, krishnahari adhikari – great name by the way – the life is GOOD.

    Again, thankyou for your precious time.

    Kenya 4 lyf

  7. I would like to alert you that in south hemispherical times, it is ACTUALLY the 29th of June.


    Thankyou for your time.

    P.S I’m sorry, I’m a bit harsh at times due to a bed chiuldhood. Tghat is also why I canot slelpll. SPELL. *cry*

    kis kis

  8. I don’t know what is data and information in IS? could you tell me,please? I want to know now.

  9. Data is d result from an observation that you carry out,while information is when ur result has be processed

  10. I think i really got what i wanted.Though i espected more information..
    thanks, may the Lord bless you .

  11. Data is an unprocessed fact. it doen not have any value or meaning while information is data that has been processed, it has value and can be used for decision making.

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