What is data?

By McDonald, T. | Date 14th of June 2019

We live in a world that is obsessed with data. Companies collect data on all types of people and things. You may have even heard the term big data or heard people talking about data, but actually is data?  Data is neither information not knowledge, so what is it?

Data is not information.

Information is according to Lexico.com, ‘What is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.’ In other words, information is the arrangement of data into something meaningful. Information is usually generated in order to answer a question from raw data. Information is not data, but information does have data in it.

Data is not knowledge either.

Knowledge is some information that a person can use in conjunction with other information in a stack of knowledge. Lexico.com defines knowledge as, ‘Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.’ It could be said that knowledge is the result of interpreting information that an individual has received. Knowledge is not data, but it is the result of processed information, which contains data.

What is data?

In computing terms, data are specific powers of two that are either in use or not in use.I say are because data is plural for datum. If the power of two is in use, it is represented by a 1 and if it is not in use, it is represented by a 0. These powers of two are called bits and are arranged into bytes consisting of eight bits. In addition, the bits and bytes need to be stored somewhere to be of any use, so they are stored on a computer readable medium. This data is a way of representing things in the real world, but it is not yet organised into anything; it is raw data.

To conclude, data is neither information nor knowledge. Knowledge comes from information and information comes from data. Data is meaningless unless it is organised into information that can be used to add to someone's knowledge.


Lexico (2019) ‘information’, Oxford dictionaries [Online]. Available at https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/information (Accessed 14 September 2019).

Lexico (2019) ‘knowledge’, Oxford dictionaries [Online]. Available at https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/knowledge (Accessed 14 September 2019).


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