Data & Statistics for Journalists: Unit of Analysis

Unit of Analysis

The unit of analysis is the entity that you're analyzing. It's called this because it's your analysis (what you want to examine) that determines what this unit is, rather than the data itself.

For instance, let's say that you have a dataset with 40 students, divided between two classrooms of 20 students each, and a test score for each student. You can analyze this data in several ways:

  • Individual unit of analysis: Compare the test scores of each student to the other students. (You're analyzing students, individuals.)
  • Group unit of analysis: Compare the average test score of the two classrooms. (You're analyzing the classrooms, comparing two groups of individuals.)

Knowing your unit of analysis is helpful, because it helps you determine what kind of data you need. The other piece of this puzzle is whether you need macrodata (aggregated data) or microdata.

Microdata & Macrodata

So what is the difference between macrodata (aggregated data) and microdata?

    Contains a record for every individual (e.g., person, company, etc.) in the survey/study.
    Source for US Census microdata: IPUMS
  • MACRODATA (Aggregated Data)
    Higher-level data compiled from smaller (individual) units of data. For example, Census data in Social Explorer has been aggregated to preserve the confidentiality of individual respondents.
    Source for US Census macrodata: Social Explorer