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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

Tartan Datascapes at CMU

Did you know CMU Libraries hosts a blog called Tartan Datascapes, published biweekly on Fridays? Tartan Datascapes helps highlight the wide variety of data engagement across the CMU campus, from data resources offered by CMU Libraries to interviews with faculty, staff, and student researchers working with unique forms of data. Check it out here: 

https://www.library.cmu.edu/blog/tartan-datascapes.

You can also have your own research featured on Tartan Datascapes! If you are engaging with data in any form and would like to have a feature of your work, please fill out the Google Form found at the following link: 

https://forms.gle/bLv7E5Fgm5UD6TvD8

Data Collaborations Lab

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The CMU Libraries Data Collaboration Lab (DataCoLAB) connects the research community across disciplinary borders, and facilitates collaborations between data producers and data scientists. The program connects researchers who want more from their datasets with individuals who have data and computer science skills, creating opportunities for people with different technical and disciplinary backgrounds to work together.

Want to learn more or ask questions? Email dataCoLAB@andrew.cmu.edu.

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: 

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/jul/16/data-plural-singular

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? Email us at UL-DataServices@andrew.cmu.edu!

Helpful Resources at CMU Libraries

Research Data Management Consultant

Hannah Gunderman's picture
Hannah Gunderman
Contact:
410A Hunt Library
4909 Frew Street
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Office Phone: 412-268-7258

Credits and Acknowledgements

A special thank you to Sue Collins (https://www.library.cmu.edu/about/people/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: https://unsplash.com/photos/1K6IQsQbizI. Design made in Canva.