Writing tip: Is "data" singular or plural?
Are you aware that data is the plural form of the noun datum? Accordingly, when referring to the existence of data in formal academic writing, the plural form of the verb should be used: the data are or the data show. It's true that the English language is always evolving and that using data as a singular noun has become a more common usage; in fact, in 2012, the Wall Street Journal announced that the paper would be using data as both a singular and a plural noun, though the author of the posting admitted that he suspected that "the plural will continue to dominate in our prose" (Izzo, 2012, para. 3). However, when it comes to formal writing, such as an academic paper, article, thesis, or dissertation, my recommendation is to stay with the traditional subject-verb agreement of data and use it as a plural subject with a plural verb. In a posting on the APA Style Blog, Krupa (2012) gave the same advice, and noted that authors should, "keep in mind that most of the time the plural form data should be used. Scientific results are built upon testing things multiple times across multiple people, and we draw conclusions from the aggregate, not the individual, data points. Therefore, when referring to the collective results, be sure to use the plural form" (para. 3). For more information regarding subject-verb agreement, and in particular, how it relates to data, please refer to pages 78-79 in the APA manual.
Do you have questions about this writing tip? Please contact the Writing Centre.
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Izzo, P. (2012, July 5). Is data is, or is data ain't, a plural? [Web log message]. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2012/07/05/is-data-is-or-is-data-aint-a-plural/
Krupa, T. (2012, July 26). Data is, or data are? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2012/07/data-is-or-data-are.html