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Definition: data


Technically, data are raw facts and figures, such as orders and payments, which are processed into information, such as balance due and quantity on hand. In common usage, however, the terms "data" and "information" are used synonymously.

The Word Is Plural
The term data is really the plural of "datum," which is one item of data. But datum is rarely used, and in practice, data is treated as both singular and plural, the latter being the correct usage ("data are").

Data vs. Information
The amount of data versus information kept in the computer is a tradeoff. Data can be processed into different forms of information, but it takes time to gather and analyze. Up-to-date information provides instant answers.

Software Is Not Data!
A common misconception is that software is also data. Software is "executed" or "run" by the computer. Data are "processed" by the computer. The software causes the computer to process data. See software.




Many Forms of Data
Every file the computer reads and writes can be considered data except for instructions in a program that are executed (software). Although data in a database may be contrasted with free-form text in a document, to the computer, everything it processes is bits and bytes of data. See file and byte.