What is the difference between data and information?

Updated: 08/31/2020 by Computer Hope
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The terms "data" and "information" are sometimes misinterpreted as referring to the same thing. However, they are not the same.

Data is a collection of values. Those values can be characters, numbers, or any other data type. If those values are not processed, they have little meaning to a human. Information is data that was processed so a human can read, understand, and use it.

The "P" in CPU stands for "processing," specifically, data processing. Processing data into information is the fundamental purpose of a computer.

How are data and information different?

Information informs you of something. It answers a specific question. It represents a specific truth or fact.

Data is the collection of recorded values from which information can be ascertained.

For example, consider the question, "what is the temperature outside?" Data provides the basis for an answer to that question. If the data is "25.6" and "Celsius," the answer is, "Outside, the temperature is 25.6 degrees Celsius." You must know what "temperature" is, and what "degrees Celsius" are, to process the data into information.

Signal data and noise data

Some data is not relevant or informational. This irrelevant data is called noise.

For example, if you create an audio recording of a piano concert, you might hear people in the audience coughing, or the sound of a ceiling fan. These noises are irrelevant to the purpose of the audio recording, which is to record the sound of the piano.

Information is analogous to a signal. In the example above, the relevant data is the sound of the piano. It answers the question, "what did the piano sound like?" The remaining data (the noise) does not answer that question, so it can be ignored or removed.

Signal and data processing

Signal processing is the separation of noise from a signal. A noisy signal is analyzed, and the noise is reduced or removed, to accentuate the signal or isolate it completely.

Similarly, data processing identifies meaningful data, and separates it from the meaningless data. The meaningful data is then interpreted, combined, modified, connected, and structured into something new called information.

Examples of data and information

The following is an example of raw data, and how that data can be assembled into information.

Example of Data

UT, 1234, Joe, Circle, SLC, 8015553211, 84084, Smith

In this example, the original data appears to be a set of random words and numbers, separated by commas.

Example of Information

Joe Smith
1234 Circle
Salt Lake City, UT 84084
(801) 555-3211

In this information, the original data was interpreted, organized, and formatted according to predefined parameters. Now the meaning of the data is clear: it is the contact information for a person named Joe Smith.

Tip

The words "format" and "information" are closely related. "Formatted data" is data "in a form." Its values are arranged to conform to a predefined structure or shape. It is "in formation."