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Data 101: Overview

In this LibGuide, we introduce you to the wide world of data, including data types (qualitative, quantitative, ethnographic, geospatial, etc.), finding data, visualizing data, and managing data.

                                                                            Image Description:  Neon sign with the words "Data has a better idea", with buildings in the background.


The definition of "data" varies across certain disciplinary and situational contexts, but at its most basic can be understood as information in a raw, unanalyzed form, which represents the values of a certain observed population, condition, or subject. Once analyzed, it can provide us with powerful information and knowledge about the world around us. Data can be cultural, geographical, scientific, statistical, digital, handwritten, and the list goes on! With this LibGuide, we hope to introduce you to the many forms data may take, and connect you with resources across CMU Libraries to help you succeed in your endeavors using data.

Who uses data?

Everyone uses data! From fine arts, to robotics, to mathematics, to sociology, everyone engages with data. The important thing to remember is that the data may visually look different across these domains, but all are valid forms of research data. 

Examples of research data include: 

  • Photographs 
  • Hand-written notes from field observation
  • Machine learning training data sets
  • Ethnographic interview transcripts
  • Sheet music
  • Scripts for plays and musicals 
  • Observations from laboratory experiments

Data Office Hours

Do you have data-related questions or need help with a data project? We are here to help! 

The University Libraries offer Data Services and Research Consultations! These office hours provide in-person or virtual consultations to students, staff, faculty, and researchers in Pittsburgh. Library specialists are available to help at any point across the research data lifecycle, which includes data collecting, cleaning, structuring and integration, data management, data analysis, coding in R and Python, data sharing, and scholarly communications. Book an in-person consultation or virtual appointment!

When do we use data?

Research Data Lifecycle

As researchers, we engage with data across all stages of the research lifecycle, from designing and planning our research, to the collection and analysis phase(s), to publishing and even sharing our data, and when reusing data to plan new projects. Each stage of this lifecycle has specific considerations for how to engage with data, and this LibGuide will introduce you to resources on data engagement at each stage!  

Data are? Data is?

You may encounter the word "data" used in both plural and singular contexts, but which is correct? Simply put, it varies! "Data" originates as the Latin plural of datum, in which refers to a single data point. Those who prefer to strictly adhere to these origins prefer to use datum to describe a data point and data to describe more than one data point. 

In many academic communication settings, "data" continues to be treated as plural. Therefore, for now, a good practice when communicating data is to also treat the word as plural. Unsure of whether you are using "data" correctly in a sentence? A helpful trick is to replace the word "data" with another plural word, such as "oranges." For example: 

"The data show that 92% of this population prefers wearing blue instead of yellow." 

"The oranges show that 92% of this population...." 

If your filler word (in this case, oranges) flows within your original sentence, you have likely used "data" correctly!

For a more extended discussion, see the article "Data are or data is?" from The Guardian at the following link:

The Research Data Services Team at CMU Libraries

At CMU Libraries, we have a Research Data Services team comprised of experts in all areas of data. We build fluid teams of expertise around complex problems and provide innovative solutions for researchers engaging with data. Want to schedule a consultation? Contact us for more help!

Helpful Resources at CMU Libraries

Open Knowledge Librarian

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Emily Bongiovanni

Credits and Acknowledgements

A special thank you to Sue Collins (, Senior Librarian and Liaison for Engineering & Public Policy and History, for creating much of the original material on which this LibGuide is based. 

Banner image courtesy of Franki Chamaki on Unsplash, found here: Design made in Canva.