What Is a Data Item?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A data item is a single unit of data in a storage record. This term may refer specifically to the smallest possible unit of information, or more generally to a single entry or field. The context usually provides information about the meaning. Data items are stored in computer databases in a variety of ways and may be secured to restrict access or left unsecured to make them readily available to anyone who wishes to access them.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

When it is the smallest possible unit of meaningful information, it represents a very small component of a larger set of data. In a census database, for instance, data items can include things like names, ages, and components of addresses. In an address, each part of the address is its own data item and can be looked at separately. Other usages of the term may lump anything in a given field under the heading of a single data item, in which case a whole address line would be a data item.

Binary code is used to store information in databases in a meaningful, readable, and easily retrieved way. File sizes can vary depending on the kind of information stored inside the database and the format. The more clarifying information is added, the larger the file will be, as it needs to contain not just the data, but also the information about the data. In an encrypted database, the information is made confidential so only a person with the right key can access it.

Within a database, it is necessary to use the correct format for inputting and storing data items. Mistakes and irregularities can make the database more difficult to use. For example, when entering dates, users need to be consistent about how they order the information in a date so conflicting entries don't occur. Users may be instructed to code information in a specific way at the time of input so it will be readable by other users in addition to being searchable.

Database corruption can be a cause for concern. A corrupted data item may be incorrect or missing. A consistent storage and ordering system can be helpful for the identification and isolation of corruption. If users can quickly spot a problem with the database, they can intervene before it spreads or causes errors. Corruption may be the result of a virus, hacking, incorrect shutdown or saving technique, or another problem. It is important to identify the cause while addressing the problem.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@kangaBurg – I remember reading about that. I won’t mention the store’s name, but I shop there, too! Speaking of correct data analysis, I’m a data entry professional, and I need to stress the importance of getting the correct data items in the first place.

At my job, I’m a proofreader of sorts. After the girls in the typing room transfer the data from handwritten forms to the database, I look over every piece to make sure the information is accurate.

We have one employee with such terrible handwriting that when he fills out a form on a customer’s behalf, you can barely read it! I’ve worked with him for years, so I can read his writing, but the typing girls have a hard time with it.

One of the girls kept misspelling customer’s names because she simply couldn’t read the guy’s writing. We do loan applications, so the names need to be correct. Imagine the trouble that would happen if I wasn’t proofreading all the data entries!


@smartypantz – I didn’t know about the Data Management Association, but data has always been important to businesses. If business people don’t collect accurate data and analyze it correctly, their sales – and even their reputation - may suffer.

A large retail chain lost a lot of money a few years ago because they failed to correctly analyze market data before starting a new ad campaign. They are a discount store, and have always catered to customers in the middle and lower income brackets. Their low prices and slightly shoddy merchandise have always screamed “low cost!” There’s nothing wrong with that. I shop there too.

But, for some reason, they decided it would be a great idea to try to appeal to the upper income bracket. They failed to properly analyze data on the needs and wants of people in that bracket. Wealthy people still wouldn’t shop there. The expensive ad campaign was a failure.

The moral of the story is: It’s important for businesses to analyze data with an objective eye. If they skew the data in order achieve the outcome they prefer, a lot of money and time may be wasted.


Data management is so important that there’s actually a Data Management Association! It’s a worldwide organization that offers certifications for data management professionals. They also offer a course for insurance data management in the USA. I guess data is really crucial for today’s businesses.

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