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Data vs. Statistics

What is the difference between Data and Statistics?

"Data" and "Statistics" are two words that we tend to use interchangeably and yet they refer to 2 very different things.  Data is the raw information from which statistics are created.  Statistics, in turn, provide a summary of data.   Let's review each term with an example to help distinguish between the two terms.


You just started a new exercise program, where you try to get out and walk everyday.  You collect your information on the calendar and later put it into an Excel spreadsheet.  You mark down the weather (sunny, cloudy, or snowing) and how many miles you walked each day.  Once you have it in Excel you may have something that looks like this:


On the first day you walked, it was sunny and you walked a total of 10 miles, on the 6th day you walked it was snowing and you only walked 3 miles.

This is DATA!

You have information that you collected for each day that you went out to walk.  Every line in your spreadsheet represents one unit of analysis, in this case, one day.  Another way to think about this, you wrote down information that you collected on each day of your calendar.

The Unit of Analysis, is the unit for which you gathered information.  Surveys collect information on an individual or a household.  Scientific research may collect information on a variety of items, such as an individual animal, a pen of animals, a soil core, a pot of plants, a field, etc...  Data is the information collected on a unit of analysis - it again is the RAW information that we gather.



Is another term that can be confusing.  Statistics can be used to refer to the study of statistics or the results of a statistical analysis.  In this case, we are interested in the summary of data - or the results of a statistical analysis.  If we look at our example above, we walked an average of 7.7 miles per day.  To obtain that result, we calculated the average of the miles that were walked during the 10 days.

Statistics are aggregated across units of analysis.  We walked 7.7 miles/day based on the 10 days that we collected data.  So a statistic is a summary of the data you collected.  

Statistics are often found in tables, charts, or may be reported as numbers and percentages in reports.  Here is another example of Statistics from the Cornell University Facts website:

Source:  Cornell University Facts


CISER Data Librarian

Michelle Edwards
CISER - Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research
391 Pine Tree Rd
Website / Blog Page


Thanks to Hailey Mooney of Michigan State University Library for permission to reuse her content.