What do I mean by that? Before I answer, let’s look at Oxford Dictionary’s definition of data:

Data are facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.

Two key factors stand out in this definition: collection and analysis.

If I gave you the three data points of 36, 24, and 36, you would have the collected data. There is however, no context to the data points. They could be anything. Three sides of a triangle, the math scores for a third grade student, the combination for your high school locker — the possibilities are endless. Without context, data are meaningless. Only after context is established can you determine the parameters for performing your analysis.

Analysis, according to Merriam-Webster is a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other. Using the above example, once the data points are defined we can choose the methods for determining how the three numbers relate to each other. (Well, except for the locker combination, because it would be pointless to look for a correlation in a random set of numbers.) Is the triangle an isosceles or obtuse angled? What are the range, average, and standard deviation for the math scores?

Analysis yields information. Information is used to make informed decisions. And that is why we collect data.