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Data and Statistics for Social Workers

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Data vs. Stats

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

Data vs. Stats

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.

Statistics

  • 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.

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

Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States

Data

  • 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.

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

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.