Lesson 14. Information Resources: Data and Statistics

KEY CONCEPTS

  • Data and statistics are collected by different types of information contributors for different sorts of purposes.
  • Communicators must be able to identify likely gatherers of data and know how to access and analyze the data.
  • Big Data is a term being used for the massive amounts of information gathered about audience behavior, spending and media use as well as other huge collections of data.
  • Statistics are generated from collections of data and are used to answer questions such as “how much” or “how many.”
  • Audience data sets comprise a large amount of material essential to communicators.
  • Numeracy skills, as with information literacy skills, are essential to communicators when evaluating statistics.
  • It is important to avoid the problems with statistical interpretation that can lead to misstatements about the significance of data.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

After completing this lesson you’ll be able to:

  • understand how and why different types of information contributors collect data or generate and publish statistics.
  • understand when and how data and statistics can aid in the creation of messages.
  • identify some of the audience data sources useful for messages.
  • understand and apply basic numeracy skills.
  • evaluate the statistical interpretation of data to assess their validity.

Overview

What do we mean by data? There are many different definitions, but a typical one refers to data as facts or information used to calculate, analyze or plan something and used as a basis for reasoning, discussion or processing. Many times, a computer is involved when the term data is used, but that isn’t a necessary condition for the term’s use.

In many cases, the data sets most useful for a communicator require statistical analysis. While most communicators are more comfortable working with words than with numbers, it is incumbent upon you to be sure your statistical evaluation skills are sharp enough to perform the basic types of analyses of data and to know when you need to defer to an expert.

“Data journalism” has been an important development over the past two decades as the potential to analyze large sets of data to find and tell stories has changed the tools of reporting. The ability to analyze crime data to find trends or to map the impact of crime in different parts of a city lets journalists initiate investigations without waiting for some agency or association to provide data.

For strategic communicators, the questions that can be answered about consumers, or the analysis that independent examination of data can provide about industry issues can help them provide more thorough, targeted and credible messages.