“Data” Dilemma

Since I joined the Master’s Programme in Health Informatics, many words and expressions have been added to my personal vocab. I think the most frequently used of such words is “Data”.

In most of the assignments we wrote/write, the word “data” has been repeated at least once(if not dozens of times!). The supporting literature was also stuffed with the word “data”. This was relatively new to me since I’m basically an MD and I don’t have an IT background.

With every new assignment that I wrote, the same question popped up into my head “Is data a singular or plural word?” .. “Should I write (data is…) or (data are…)?”

At first, I thought about data the same way I do about “Information” which is treated as an uncountable noun. This seemed to be quite reasonable for a while and I kept on writing “Data is…” in my assignments.

Then I started to read more IT books and articles which stated “Data are…”. This came to me as a shocking thing to read since I’m a bit paranoid about writing with few grammatical mistakes and to me being confused about whether data is a singular or a plural word was something that is worth exploring since the word data is taking over as one of the most frequently used words either while writing or presenting.

I certainly started by doing an online search and I quickly realized that I was not the only one who is confused about the nature of the word data. The links I checked varied a lot from blogs to forums and newspapers (e.g. The Guardian) to online dictionaries (e.g.Merriam-Webster).

The more I read, the more I realized that I wasn’t completely wrong when I wrote “Data is…”. The Merriam-Webster‘s definition of Data “noun plural but singular or plural in constructionoften attributive” made it clearer that it is acceptable to consider the word data as a singular or a plural noun. This drove me to go even deeper and see what experts think and according to an article on The Guardian‘s website, traditionalists stick to the fact that the noun data is a plural one (plural form of “datum”) and that it should always be treated that way especially while writing scientific articles yet due to the amount of people who treat data as a singular noun (including myself), it is becoming more and more acceptable to do so.

I still write “Data is…” in most of my assignments and I’m not sure if I’m going to change this. What do you think?

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