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Information can be quantitative or qualitative.

One of the most obvious ways to categorize information is by whether it is quantitative or qualitative. Some sources contain either quantitative information or qualitative information, but sources often contain both.

Many people first think of information as something like what’s in a table or spreadsheet of numbers and words. But information can be conveyed in more ways than textually or numerically.

Quantitative Information – Involves a measurable quantity—numbers are used. Some examples are length, mass, temperature, and time. Quantitative information is often called data, but can also be things other than numbers.

Qualitative Information – Involves a descriptive judgment using concept words instead of numbers. Gender, country name, animal species, and emotional state are examples of qualitative information.

Take a quick look at the example table below. Another way we could display the table’s numerical information is in a graphic format —listing the students’ ages or GPAs on a bar chart, for example, rather than in a list of numbers. Or, all the information in the table could be displayed instead as a video of each student giving those details about themselves.

Example: Data Table with Quantitative and Qualitative Data

This table illustrates that information can include a range of formats, including pictures.

Last Name First Name Age Rank Major Gender Current GPA Photo
Adams Grace 19 Sophomore English Female 3.78 woman with long brown hair holding a microphone
Bloomfield Erika 21 Junior Physics Female 3.89 student talking
Chow Kimmie 20 Senior Political Science Female 3.77 student holding a book in a library
Crutchfield Seth 23 Senior Psychology Male 3.58 student looking at a book in a library
Fitch Fredrick 18 Freshman Art Male 4.0 student in suit standing outside
Grover Oscar 26 Junior Biology Male 3.32 student outside with folded arms

Increasingly, other formats such as images, sound, and video may be used as information or used to convey information. Some examples:

  • A video of someone watching scenes from horror movies, with information about their heart rate and blood pressure embedded in the video. Instead of getting a description of the person’s reactions to the scenes, you can see their reactions.
  • A database of information about birds, which includes a sound file for each bird singing. Would you prefer a verbal description of a bird’s song or an audio clip?
  • A list of colors, which include an image of the actual color. Such a list is extremely helpful, especially when there are A LOT of color names.
  • A friend tells you that a new pizza place is 3 blocks away, charges $2 a slice and that the pizza is delicious. This may never be recorded, but it may be very valuable information if you’re hungry!
  • A map of Minnesota with counties shaded with different intensities of red according to the median household income of inhabitants.

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Critical Thinking in Academic Research by Cindy Gruwell and Robin Ewing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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