What is the difference between Statistics & Data?
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.
Statistics are the results of data analysis. It usually comes in the form of a table or chart. This is what a statistical table looks like:
If you want to understand a phenomenon, 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.
Raw data is the direct result of research that was conducted as part of a study or survey. It is a primary source. It usually comes in the form of a digital data set that can be analyzed using software such as Excel, SPSS, SAS, and so on. This is what a data set looks like:
What is your time frame and geography?
Time: Are you looking for information about a single point in time? Do you want to look at changes over time? Do you need historical information? Current information?
Be prepared that the most current statistics may actually be a year or more old. There can be multiple year lags before some information is released depending on how often the information is collected, the time it takes to process and crunch numbers, and the public release schedule.
Geography: Geographical areas can be defined by political boundaries (nations, states, counties, cities) or statistical boundaries (mainly Census geography such as metropolitan statistical areas, block groups, or tracts).
Who might collect the data? Who might publish the statistics?
These are some of the main types of producers of statistical information:
What is the likelihood that the statistics will be made readily available?
It is good to keep in mind when doing research that some data and statistics might not be available. Some data is not collected and some might be held privately. Look for statistics reported in journals, news, and magazine articles. If they report a source, be sure to follow it to the source. By searching periodical indexes, you can often determine if anyone has conducted research into your area of inquiry. You may turn up a journal article with statistical tables on your topic, or you may find out that you have chosen such a unique topic that little to no research exists in that area. Maybe you can be flexible with your topic and find a similar substitute.
Define your topic
Be specific about your topic so that you can narrow your search, but be flexible enough to tailor your needs to existing sources.
Identify the Unit of Analysis
You should be able to define the following:
Who or What?
Social Unit: This is the population that you want to study.
It can be...
Time: This is the period of time you want to study.
Things to think about...
Space: Geography or place.
There are two main types of geographic classifications...
Remember to define your topic with enough flexibility to adapt to available data!
Data is not available for every thinkable topic. Some data is private, must be purchased, uncollected, or unavailable. Be prepared to try alternative data.
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