On the distinction between information and data

Some people make a big distinction between information and data. And they get very cross with others who use the terms interchangeably. They think that data is like the wheat grain which, when ground and processed becomes your bread: the information. Now make a tasty sandwich*.

information is just data which as been made useful

I think about it a little differently. To me information is just a subset of data which as been made useful. To me information is the sandwich. And data is the set of all possible ingredients: wholemeal bread, ciabatta, peanut butter, cheese, coronation chicken, gherkins, ham…

The job of an analyst, or data scientist, is to prepare that sandwich:

  • Take the order – understanding customer requirements
  • Select the right ingredients – selecting the right subset of data
  • Prepare the sandwich – perform your analysis / build your data product
  • Plate & present – design, package and present your report or dataviz

Get any of these elements wrong – peanut butter and gherkin bagel anyone? – and you’ll have failed to make the data as useful as it might have been.

*sandwiches are preferred over pies, pies are bad for you

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