some thoughts for your glossary

Difference between data and information

We often use these two terms interchangeably.  In terms of research though, each term has a very specific meaning.

Data: is the raw words, observations, ideas, sounds, materials that relate to what you collect from research.  It may represent events, forms, opinions or ideas

Information: is the data processed in a way that makes it meaningful and understandable to the relevant audience

For example: data might look like this;
Person 1 said YES
Person 2 said NO
Person 3 said YES
Person 4 said NO
Person 5 said NO
Person 6 said NO
Person 7 said YES
Person 8 said NO
Person 9 said NO
Person 10 said YES

Now, the data here can tell us a few things but is not in a form that represents what the data actually means.

I can process this data in a number of ways to make it meaningful.  I could tabulate the data and represent it as a percentage; 60% of people answered NO and 40% answered YES.  Does this add meaning? Perhaps.  Interpreting this data in a way that helps construct meaning is the valuable process that converts data to information.   What does it mean to say that 60% of people answered YES? Is YES/NO the right question to ask?  Perhaps I might even break the data down more and ask what percentage of the people that said YES were male and female.  This process of digging deeper into the data is called cross-tabulation.

Without getting to much into the processes of data analysis, it is simply important for us to note that raw data needs to be processed into a form that we and our readers find meaningful.

Another interesting little discussion about terms arises from the use of words such as theory and practice.  Many of the concepts of work based learning positions knowledge and skills in the context of the workplace.  We also constantly talk about applying theory to your practice.   In terms of research theory and practice represent a similar but slightly different idea.

A theory may be an idea, model, hypothesis, expectation or question you (or someone else may have).  It may be something that has been tried and tested by other people over the years, or it may represent a specific thought or idea on how something might behave or respond to certain stimuli.

The aim of some research (not all) is to test a theory to see if it holds water in practice.  I say ‘not all’ because sometimes research can to simply to let off a fire cracker and see what happens, and the research has no real thoughts or preconceived idea as to what may occur.  But there are a number of research projects that aim to determine whether this theoretical idea they have is something that when people actually do it or use it impacts directly on their practice.  This process of testing theory is sometimes called fieldwork, field testing, piloting or test marketing.

So, in working towards your research proposal, think carefully about the theory that is involved in your topic?  Is it one that someone else has already tested and you want to see if it stands up in your specific circumstance?  Is it a brand new theory or idea that needs testing on ‘live’ subjects?  There are ethical and logistical issues involved in these decisions because in many research projects you are researching on real subjects (they are your guinea pigs).  We will discuss these issues in much greater depth over the next few weeks.

Think about how your research will work to collect data and turn it into information and how it might apply theory to workplace practice.  These are really important decisions and processes for your research.

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