Data, Information & Knowledge

Data, Information & Knowledge

Data, information, knowledge and wisdom are interrelated

This relation motivated me to think about knowledge and intelligence and about the buzzword that “information is an inexhaustible resource”. As far as I have been learnt, intelligence should be one of human traits which is not the same as knowledge. It is true that intelligence facilitates the process of acquiring knowledge or in becoming knowledgeable but the main characteristic of intelligence is it's ability, a potential. Knowledge is an achievement. 

The relation between data information and knowledge is one of those academic discussions which will never cease. According to Zins (2007) “The academic and professional Information Science literature supports diversified meanings for each concept. Evidently, the three key concepts are interrelated, but the nature of the relations among them is debatable, as well as their meanings.” (Zins, 2006:479) Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that other proposed definitions are wrong. I am just offering and broadening the view about this interesting topic.

According to my understanding, data is a fact and is objective, information is interpretation of data and involves decision, opinion, aim and bias. Data is visible to anyone but information can be hidden, or it can reveal its potential only in combination to another information. For example, some word from a language we do not understand is pure data. If we analyse it using our knowledge and intelligence we can see that the unknown word consists of sounds, we can then visualise these sounds using letters. 

We move closer to information yet a sequence of some letters is still not a full featured information. Then we can translate a word for which we know the meaning, let’s say it means - house. Again moving closer to information but not yet there. Which house, in what town etc.. If I say “my house” we can say that it has moved closer in becoming an information. In this process we see that knowledge was the criteria every time. Every additional layer of data makes information more useful, the more meaning it has, the more we move towards information using our previous knowledge and intelligence. Intelligence is basically an ability to perceive information from data which is objective. Information is subjective in the sense that every human interprets data according to his aims, past experience, and current knowledge.

Data and information are just levels of abstraction

Data has higher level of abstraction, is raw and has a potential of every meaning but actually has no meaning. The more meaning we put into initial data we gradually create information out of it moving to lover level of abstraction and higher specification, thus reducing initial, potential information content, because when we did not understand the word, at that point it had potentially all of the content imaginable because it could mean everything and anything we know and don’t know. By using specification we reduced potential information content of data to information relevant to a particular purpose. The point where data meets information is intelligence and this is why information is taken as an “inexhaustible resource”. 

The more data we put into information the more specific, particular and subjective it becomes. Subjective in terms of referring to or being of interest to smaller group of people. This is a dynamic process and we can always argue where about the delimitation between data and information. I think that there isn’t any. We can only say that we can move from data to information and vice versa but motion never stops.

An example

car every possible car
my car more specific car
my red car even more specific car because I can have many red cars
my only red car moving to more particular meaning (lower possible occurrences of phenomenon)
my only red car is broken   more particular because my only red car could be anywhere or in any state (broken, new, hidden, stolen etc)

It seems that intelligence transforms data to information using previous knowledge and a process of specification and abstraction to create even more knowledge in which the more data we add the more particular, more specific and more useful information becomes because it can pinpoint more specific phenomena. At the same time we create a sequence of data which can iteratively (using many combinations) describe a broader range of phenomena.

The dynamic from data towards information

Data > Information
more abstract > more specific
perceived as more objective > perceived as more subjective
can describe more possible occurrences of phenomenon > can describe fewer possible occurrences of phenomenon
has low information content > has high information content

There may be difficulties in understanding perception of data vs information as more objective vs more subjective. To benefit greater understanding of a concept we can say that without an aim information is useless and represents only combination (sequence) of data. As aim is subjective we can see why information is perceived more subjectively. 

We can also rightfully argue that information can also be objective but what we actually mean is that facts, data collections are perceived more objectively but can be perceived by many subjects whereas information is more subjective, meaning that single objective data collection can mean different information for different people. Then the knowledge is reflection of data within our consciousness which emerges in the process of continual iterative specification and abstraction of information.


  • Zins C. (2007) Conceptual Approaches for Defining Data, Information, and Knowledge. JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 58(4), 479–493.


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