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Boston College University Libraries

Data and Statistics for Social Workers: Data vs. Stats

This guide is designed to help social work students find data and statistics sources on the web.

Data vs. Statistics

Thanks to Hailey Mooney of Michigan State University Libraries for permission to use contents from her excellent 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. It usually comes in the form of a table or chart. This is what a statistical table looks like:

Table 1206. Adult Attendance at Sports Events by Frequency: 2007

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States



  • Datasets

  • 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:

Dataset example: each cell in the spreadsheet represents an individual response to survey questions

Related Guides

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

Citing Data and Statistics

Basic format for data citation:

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



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





For questions, please contact Hannah Ha at or 617-552-3234.