There is an explosion of information that’s available to everyone, making people feel overwhelmed. How can you gather, manage and organize information? What does the information mean? Are patterns and trends in the information? When I had the SpeakPipe plugin on my website, a college student asked me how to evaluate information. In this post, there is a simple process that teaches you how to evaluate information – how to gather, organize and manage information.
Please read the Review of How to Analyze Information by Herbert E. Meyer, and the Review of the Next Big Thing. (They complement this post!)
Why It’s Important to Analyze Information?
How to analyze information is something that many professionals think about because they are overloaded with information. Every day you are bombarded with problems to solve and decisions to make. The quality of your solutions and decisions is only as good as the information they are based on.
With so much information at your fingertips, the question, “How to analyze the information” for best results becomes more important. How can you organize the information in a systematic way? What does the information mean?
Another point I’d like to make, is that with the rapidly changing world that we live in, to remain relevant, requires professionals to learn continuously. Part of that means reading books to get the skills needed for future jobs. Knowing how to analyze the new information is important. What does the information mean? You cannot attain knowledge without understanding. And knowledge is useless if you cannot apply it.
As a professional with 20 years of experience in research, I constantly have to analyze the data gathered, so the information requested by my client is streamlined and not overwhelming. I have to filter the information by deciding which information is essential and which is non-essential. Here is a simple process that could help you.
UPDATE: This was first published in September 2009
Related Post: How to Make Decisions Better: Analyzing Information
Process: How to Analyze Information
- Decide where you can find the information that you need. The information could be in someone’s head, so you may have to interview him/her. Or you may have to develop a survey. If this is the case who would complete it?
- Gather the information from the sources that you identified.
- Quickly skim and scan the information.
- Determine accuracy, relevance and reliability of information. Distinguish between essential and non-essential information.
- Differentiate – is there anything unique about the information?
- Identify propaganda and bias.
- Recognize omissions and faulty logic
- Recognize interrelationships and themes.
- Connect disparate pieces of information.
- Pay attention to the source of the information.
Step 1. Review the questions
Review the questions generated before the information was gathered.
- Why was this particular information necessary?
- What questions was it supposed to answer?
- What kinds of decisions will be made based on this information?
Renew your understanding of the central issues and key questions. Those questions are critical because the information is usually requested when someone is trying to answer a question, solve a problem or make a decision. People seldom collect information just for the sake of collecting it.
Unanticipated results should not be ignored. Putting information together will often raise important, unforeseen and relevant questions. Note these for future reference, and point them out when presenting the results. In other words, park the information for now.
- Gather all relevant information that has been collected.
- Read through the information with a critical eye.
- While reading the information, keep the following questions in mind:
- What are some important themes?
- What are the key concepts?
- What information do you already know that you can add to the new information?
- What meaningful connections can you make with my existing knowledge with past experiences?
How can you rearrange the concepts?
- How are the concepts related?
- Are there any patterns?
- Can you spot trends in the information?
- What is being implied, but not explicitly stated?
- Sort information into parts which belong together.
- Break the information apart and put it back together again, are there some components that are not important?
- Some information may have already been analyzed. Some may be partly analyzed, and some may need analysis.
Going through these steps will make the analysis of the information easier and faster.
Step 3. Decide how to analyze information
The analysis could simply be adding up numbers and averaging them. Or comparing information to examine the relationship of one thing to another or two things together. It could be combining pieces of data in new and interesting ways. Do you have to perform statistical analysis or any other quantitative analysis? Pay attention to the source of the information to maintain the integrity of the results.
Step 4. How to analyze the information
- Do you have to conduct qualitative or quantitative analysis of the information that you collected?
- Review the notes you took while organizing all the information.
- Look out for biased information and faulty logic.
- Look at the information individually and as a whole, what do you notice?
- Take note of similarities.
- Contrast information by setting two things in opposition to show the differences.
- Relate pieces of information to establish relationships between and among them.
- Combine contradictory pieces of information, what insights can you generate?
- What are the emerging themes?
- Identify gaps in the information, what assumptions can you make?
- Do you have the information you need to solve the problem or make the decision? Do you have the answer to your question(s)? If not you may have to start the process again.
Step 5. Integrate the information
- Put the analyzed parts together in a way that tells the complete story.
- What new insights emerged?
- What is surprising to you?
- How can you use the information?
It is impossible to gather all the information you will ever need, so there are times when you have to make intelligent assumptions.
UPDATE: February 17, 2014: Pay attention to where you collect your information. Good sources include:
- Government websites
- University sources
- Commercial online databases, which you can readily access from most public library portals
- Community watch dog agencies
- Reputable consumer groups
These are few of the sources that readily come to mind.
[I am taking a MOOC on Social Media for Journalists offered by the Knight Center, and the teacher for the segment, Craig Silverman, on verifying content, made me realize that I have not done justice to the section of this post on verifying information. Social media has changed everything, and verification is now more important than ever. With more access to information comes more hoaxes and misinformation, creating a need to verify images, videos, news…
Here are some important articles from the course:
Next Steps: If You Need to Learn More about How to Analyze Information
In a previous life, I conducted both secondary and primary research. If you need more information than this post contains, here are two books to read. I have used Competitive Intelligence : How to Gather, Analyze, and Use Information to Move Your Business to the Top by Larry Kahaner. And I bought and How to Analyze Information by Herbert Meyer.
But recently, while searching on Amazon, I found Information Systems for Business: An Experiential Approach, which sounds like it could be very useful in learning how to analyze information.