Research data or research information: What’s the difference?

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There are many terms that sound similar but have different meanings: Effectiveness and efficiency. Sympathy and empathy. In discourses on information science, the digitisation of science and research and currently in connection with the Barcelona Declaration on Open Research Information, another pair of terms regularly appears that also sound similar but have different meanings: Research data and research information.

In this article, I would like to define both concepts more precisely and make a clear distinction between them.

What is research data?

Research data refers to all information that is collected or generated during a research process. This can be experimental results, empirical survey data, satellite photos, measured values from material tests, images, audio recordings and much more.

They are the starting point for scientific analyses and interpretations. When they are published, they enable researchers to reproduce and verify these analyses and interpretations.

What is research information?

Research information is metadata about research activities, actors and results. This includes, for example, descriptions of projects, researchers, organisations, publications, software or conferences.

Among other things, it is used to inform researchers, funders, policymakers and the public about the results and impact of research. They are also used for research evaluation and as a basis for evidence-based science policy.

Are there overlaps?

Yes, in any case. Research data is the subject of research information. Just as a scientific journal article can be described in metadata (as we know it from every library catalogue), research data can also be described. This is an example of research information about research data:

Abbildung von beispielhaften JSON-Metadaten über einen Forschungsdatensatz

Here a research dataset is described in metadata. Among other things, we see here that it is an entry for an object of the type “Dataset”, that this object has the DOI and the name “LangenbachAMT2019”. This is therefore research information about research data.

Conversely, research information can also be research data – if science itself is the object of investigation. In science studies, quantitative analyses of co-authorships, citation relationships or the impact of funding on certain fields of research are often carried out.

Conclusion: Research information and research data are not the same thing, even if there are overlaps in terms of content.

... arbeitet im Open Science Lab der TIB und beschäftigt sich dort (überwiegend) mit offenen Forschungsinformationen und Open Science. Weitere Informationen: