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Data and Statistics for Social Workers


Data vs. Stats

Data vs. Stats

Source:  How to Find Data & Statistics Guide by Hailey Mooney at the Michigan State University Libraries.  Many thanks to Hailey for permission to reuse content from her guide.

What is the difference between data and statistics?

In regular conversation, both words are often used interchangeably. In the world of libraries, academia, and research there is an important distinction between data and statistics. Data is the raw information from which statistics are created. Put in the reverse, statistics provide an interpretation and summary of data.


  • Statistical tables, charts, and graphs

  • Reported numbers and percentages in an article

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. They usually come in the form of a table or chart. This is what a statistical table looks like:

An example of a statistical table, titled Adult Attendance at Sports Events by Frequency: 2007.

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States



  • Data sets

  • Machine-readable data files, data files for statistical software programs

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, SPSSSAS, and so on. This is what a data set looks like:

An example of a dataset, where each cell in the spreadsheet represents a response to a survey question.


Social Work Librarian

Adam Williams
McGuinn Hall, 038
Subjects:Social Work

Citing Data

Basic format for data citation:

Rightsholder, A. A. (Year). Title of program [Description of form]. Retrieved from http://xxxx



Pew Research Center. (2014). Gender and generations [Data file and code book]. Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. (2000). Census 2000 summary file 3: Massachusetts raw data.  Retrieved from

Related Guides

The BC Libraries have several excellent guides that will help you identify data. Here are some that we recommend:



Use this form for questions or comments about the BC Libraries or the website. If you have a research question you can also email or chat with a librarian.

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