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What is Data Analysis?

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Raw data can be hard to make use of unless it can be arranged into something more organized. Data analysis is a way to take this information and turn it into something that is far more useful. By working the data correctly it is possible to get the most value from it. There is also a dark side to data analysis though. In the hands of an expert it is possible to use the raw data to support almost any agenda. For this reason it is always important to think critically when dealing with this type of statistics. This involves understanding a bit about how such analysis is conducted and how it can be manipulated.

The Need for Data Analysis

There are many organizations and businesses around the world collecting data. If you walk down any street you are almost sure to be stopped by somebody with a clip board wanting to ask you questions. This individual is trying to collect data that can be later be used in any number of ways. As well as the questionnaire survey type of data collection three is also observational, measurement, and many other ways to collect it. Almost anything that can be quantified can be used to produce some type of statistics.

The goal of data analysis is to highlight the important information that exists among the collected numbers. Of course, deciding what is important and what isn’t will always be a value judgment. What is important will usually be decided by whoever is paying for the research.

It is probably easier to describe how all this works by way of an example. If a business decides that it wants to market its products to teenagers they will usually spend some time doing research. They might decide to use surveys as a way to find out what this group likes and doesn’t like. Interviewers might then stop X number of young people in a popular part of town and ask them predetermined questions. This will produce a mass of data which can then be analyzed for the relevant information – what the group likes and doesn’t like. This information will then be presented in such a way that it is easy to digest; probably using bar graphs and pie charts. This data will also show trends and allow for predictions.

The Dangers of Data Analysis

If any group wishes to produce data that supports their views or proposals they can mess around with the data. To do this they only have to look for anything that supports their position and ignore anything that doesn’t. By doing this they can create a persuasive argument that may fool a lot of people. The data they are using isn’t telling lies, but it just isn’t telling the full story and so is misleading. There can also be tricks used in how the data is collected in the first place. If you only sample people who are sympathetic to your ideas then this can lead to very biased statistics.

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Meet the Author

Anthony Carter currently resides in Fife, Scotland with his wife Lisa, and their three wonderful children. As a senior editor for various publications, if he's not reading and writing, you would find him photographing and traveling to some of the most far-flung locations around the world.


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