What is the difference between data and information?

Most people believe that the terms “data” and “information” are interchangeable and mean the same thing. However, there is a distinct difference between the two words. Data can be any character, text, words, number, pictures, sound, or video and, if not put into context, means little or nothing to a human. However, information is useful and usually formatted in a manner that allows it to be understood by a human.

Computers typically read data, but it is not necessarily something that a computer actually understands. Through the use of formulas, programming scripts, or software applications, a computer can turn data into information that a human can understand.

Below is an example of the same data and information and how they differ.

Example of Data

Joe,Smith,1234 Circle,SLC,UT,84084,80

Example of Information

Joe Smith
1234 Circle
Salt Lake City, UT 84084

As you can see in the above example, if you only looked at the data, you may be able to understand some of the text on the line, but it isn’t really useful. That same information, when broken out into readable text and even slightly formatted, becomes much more useful and allows you to identify that it is contact information for Joe Smith.

In this example, the data could be a CSV file that can be parsed into an Excel spreadsheet or database to make it usable information.


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