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Statistics Guide: Statistics vs. Data


  Statistics vs. Data: What's the Difference?

In regular conversation, both words are often used interchangeably. In the world of libraries, academia, and research there is an important distinction between data and statistics. Data is the raw information from which statistics are created. Put in the reverse, statistics provide an interpretation and summary of data.

Data: Raw data is the byproduct of research conducted as part of a study or survey. It is a primary source. Typical forms of data include:

  • Machine-readable data files for statistical software programs like Excel, SPSS etc.
  • Data sets

If you want to explore how a phenomenon can be quantified, you want data. Data can be analyzed and interpreted using statistical procedures to answer “why” or “how.” Data is used to create new information and knowledge.

When analyzing data generated from your own research (surveys you conducted, etc.), you are conducting primary data analysis. When analyzing data sets collected by others, you are conducting secondary data analysis.

Statistics: Statistics are the products of data analysis. Common forms of statistics include:

  • Tables, charts, and graphs
  • Reported numbers or percentages in an article

If you’re looking for a quick number, you want a statistic. A statistic will answer “how much” or “how many”. A statistic repeats a pre-defined observation about reality.