Data & Information

The terms “data” and “information” are often used interchangeably. However, these are actually two different, though related, things. Understanding the differences between data and information is an important first step when wanting to create a dashboard to present information.

To understand the differences we need to know the characteristics of both data and information, and how data becomes information.

In this lesson, we’ll learn about:

  1. The characteristics of data
  2. The characteristics of information

1. Data

Data are raw facts and figures. This could be numbers, dates, words, symbols, images or sounds. The key thing about data is that it:

  • Has no meaning
  • Has no structure
  • Has no context
  • Is unprocessed

What does this mean in practice though? Well, let’s look at some numbers.

  • 11.3
  • 10.1
  • 10.6
  • 11.0

What do these numbers tell you? What are they about? You don’t know! This is because you have no idea what these numbers represent. Are they times in a race? The speed of a car? The height of a room?

This is what data is, raw facts and figures without any meaning, structure or context that has not been processed.

Further Thought

What are some other examples of data? Create a list of data and show it to a classmate. Can they figure out what it represents?

2. Information

Information is data that has been processed. More specifically, information is data that:

  • Has meaning
  • Has structure
  • Has context
  • Is processed

What does this mean in practice? Well, let’s look back at the data from the previous section.

  • 11.3
  • 10.1
  • 10.6
  • 11.0

We didn’t know what these numbers were about. However, what if I told you that these are times in a race, is this now information? Not really. We have context, but lack structure and meaning.

For example, are these times measured in seconds or minutes? Also, who does each time belong to? Without knowing this you wouldn’t be able to award the winner a gold medal.

Let’s add further context to this data by saying that they are times from a 100m race measured in seconds. We can process this data and structure it by sorting the data by time and structuring the data into a table with the racers name next to their time.

Runner 210.1s
Runner 310.6s
Runner 411.0s
Runner 111.3s

You see, this is now information. We can now use this information for things like making decisions, such as who to award the gold medal to.

Further Thought

Look at the data you created for the previous further thought task. How would you turn this into information? Try doing this now and compare your results with a classmate.

Lesson Summary

So to summarise what we’ve learnt in this lesson:

  • Data are raw facts and figures.
  • This could be numbers, dates, words, symbols, images or sounds.
  • Data has no meaning, no structure, no context and is unprocessed.
  • Information is data that has been processed.
  • Information has meaning, structure, context and is processed.