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Basic Difference Between Data and Information

Basic Difference Between Data and Information

Data and information may be interrelated terms but they certainly do not mean the same thing. If you have trouble deciding when and where to use which, then go through this Techspirited article to understand the difference between the two.
Satyajeet Vispute
Did You Know?
The human brain is currently the only place where the 'knowledge' derived from both data and information can be stored.
Data exists in all types and forms. These include, big data, small data, encrypted data, redundant data etc. Yet together, they are all said to be a part of information technology. So, does this mean that data and information are one and the same thing? Well, not exactly.

Before the arrival of modern-day computing, the distinction between data and information was clearly defined. Both terms have ancient origins and were brought into use for describing completely different entities. However in present-day computer lingo, these terms are used interchangeable, and so it is no wonder that few are able to tell them apart.
In the following sections, we shall learn what data and information mean, both in normal usage and in the world of computers. We shall also look at the difference between them.

Data
The word data is derived from a singular Latin word datum which means 'something given'. Data can be considered as the plural of datum. Data is simply bits and pieces of information about something, but not the entire required information itself.
Data may be available in the form of numbers, letters, diagrams or a set of characters. In its raw form, data is usually collected through various measurement techniques and fed into processors and computers which organize them into a structured manner such as a table, a graph etc. This raw data, which is fairly useless by itself, can then be analyzed and processed by computers and be converted into useful information.

Information
Information is an old word that has ancient French and Middle English origins. It refers to the act of telling or informing. In today's terminology, information can be best described as the act of communicating or receiving a fact or facts about someone or something.
Information is obtained from the accumulated data. This happens when the collected data is arranged in a suitable format and analyzed by a computer or processor, presenting it in a human-friendly manner. So basically, a computer requires raw data for processing, while humans need the processed data, i.e., the information, to gain knowledge.

Difference Between Data and Information: Simple Example
In the above sections, we learned what the terms data and information individually mean. Clearly data and information are interrelated and hence distinguishing between them might not seem so easy. To help you get a better understanding of the difference between them let's look at a simple example.
Consider that you have been given the task of carrying out a survey of all the people that live in your neighborhood. You go around from door to door and note down the names, contact details, occupations etc., of each person living there. By the end of it, you will have with you the details of probably a hundred or even thousand people. These collected details are known as the 'data' of the survey.

Now, if for instance, you are asked to find out the number of engineers in your locality, you will analyze the data that you have collected, checking for each person's occupation to sort out all the engineers from among them and add them up to get a number. This number representing the total engineers in your neighborhood, is known as 'information' as it is something meaningful about the otherwise random collection of details.

Difference Between Data and Information in Computer Science
The following table highlights the difference between data and information according to their respective use in database management systems (dbms) and in computer science.

Data Information
Data represents the input given to a computer or dbms. Information represents the output obtained from these systems.
Data comprises raw unprocessed facts. Information is data which has been processed.
Data is independent of information. Information is dependent on data.
Data is non-specific. Information is highly specific.
Collected data by itself is meaningless. Information derived from data has some meaning to it.
Data is the raw material. Information is the final product.

Examples of Data and Information
1. A history of all the hurricane-related disasters in the U.S. over the past 50 years is data. Analyzing it to predict a future occurrence is information.

2. The total number of visitors to a website from across the world is data. Finding out how much of that traffic came from one specific country is information.

3. The number of sales carried out by all the employees in an organization is data. Analyzing it to determine which one of them performed the best is information.

4. Approval of a drug by the FDA is a result of the information about its safety and effectiveness, derived from a lot of data gathered about it through the various clinical trials.

5. The research done for writing an article can be termed as gathering of data. The article itself, where all this data is organized in a useful manner, is a source of information.

Thus, in conclusion, data and information represent two separate things which shouldn't be confused with one another. Data is the collection of bits and pieces of facts, while information is something that is obtained after processing this data, which conveys some meaningful detail about it.