Data and Information

Data is raw unprocessed facts and figures that have no context or purposeful meaning and information is processed data that has meaning and is presented in a context.

For example, a computer operator may enter 36.41, which is data, because we do not know why or in what context it is being used. However, if this number then appears on a bill to show that you owe a company £36.41 for goods received then this data has changed into information, because it has acquired a context (it’s a bill) and meaning.

The figures 36.41 will be held as binary data on some media such as a hard disk.  It is the software which accesses this data and displays it in its context.  It may also have some structure, if it is held in a program like a database for example, and a database will also give it structure.  So, it is the software which turns the figures from data into information and gives them meaning.

The binary patterns on backing storage devices such as a disk, CD or DVD, or memory stick, are all classed as data.  For example, the binary patterns that describe an icon on your desktop are data.  They become information after the operating system software has processed them, because then they become meaningful to you as the icons representative of your hard disk or Internet explorer.


Humans have an endless thirst for knowledge, but how do we obtain knowledge? We can read books and magazines, study course materials, and of course we can gain knowledge from watching TV and listening to the radio.  The knowledge about the weekend’s sports matches can mean as much to one person as the latest advances in rocket science does to another.

We tend to gain knowledge from information and we use that information to make decisions.

Knowledge can be split into two categories: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is rules or processes or decisions that can be recorded either on paper or in an information system. Tacit knowledge exists inside the minds of humans and is harder to record. It tends to be created from someone’s experiences, so again it is based on a set of rules or experiences.


Metadata can be thought of as data that describes data. It may have been introduced to you in the Database Unit where it is defined as a data dictionary.  This is one example, but other formats of metadata exist. It may be the card-index system used by libraries before computerisation, where each card told you the author, title and location of the book.  It can also be thought of as data about documents or files stored on the computer. The computer keeps a file on its hard disk where it records information about each and every file on the computer.  This includes information such as when the file was created or modified; who created it; the size of the file; the file type it is.  This master or directory file is an example of metadata.

Categorisation of information

Information can be categorised under many headings that help us to determine its overall usefulness.  The main categories are Source, Nature, Level, Time, Frequency, Use, Form and Type.  We will examine each of the categories and their sub-categories in some detail.

Download and complete Worksheet 1.




Intermediate II Home
Database | Using Information | Internet | NAB/Coursework| Revision
Log into Glow | School Website | Contact Us