Data vs. Information

Data and information are often confused or used interchangeably when in fact they have two different meanings. Information refers to stuff that is readable and understandable by a human, it is human-readable. Such as a plain text password or a username. Data refers to stuff that not human-readable, but still might be useful for the computer. Such as an encrypted password.

The difference between data and information becomes more apparent when you use a real-world example. Imagine you take all the test scores from a group of students and put them into a list, with no other information. This list of numbers is raw data and unorganized, it doesn’t mean anything by itself. When you add in the student names or create a graph from these numbers, then the data has become organised and is now useful information rather than raw data. You can also derive information from raw data, such as the average score or the minimum or maximum score achieved. This is useful information derived from processing the raw data.

The same is true in computing and programming. While programming you may come across unprocessed data, such as a list of numbers, words, or names. Additional code may then be required to process these raw data into information, such as putting it into a readable table or graph. Remember that the context of data and information is humans, computers may understand or find a list of seemingly random numbers useful but humans won’t necessarily understand them.

Formatting is not the same as changing data into information. Think of the different ways of writing dates (day/month/year vs year/month/day) humans can understand these different formats so they are all information. However, depending on the program requirements the format of the dates may need to be altered or changed.

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