<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=1054151198438221&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

It looks like your browser is incompatible with our website.

If you are currently using IE 11 or earlier, we recommend you update to the new Microsoft Edge or visit our site on another supported browser.

The Article Galaxy Blog

Structured VS Unstructured Data

Research Solutions|Marketing Team
Research Solutions|Marketing Team
January 10, 2024
6 min read

Data is an integral part of business decisions. The Big Data Analytics market is projected to grow from $307.52 billion in 2023 to $745.15 billion by 2030, creating an astounding 2.72 million jobs in data science over the next few years.

A company’s vision improves following its ability to gather the correct data, interpret it, and use the lessons derived to influence its operational success. However, the amount of data companies access today is rising and comes in different kinds and formats. This data is grouped into two main divides: structured and unstructured data.

So, what are structured and unstructured data?

Structured data consists of clearly outlined data types that come with searchable patterns. In contrast, unstructured data isn't easily searchable and includes commonly used formats such as video, audio, and social media post content.

Both types of data are essential for companies in the life science industry. Their work requires analysis and visualization to make meaningful discoveries.

What Is Structured Data?

Structured data defines resident data in the form of a fixed field within a record or file. The field stores length-specific data.

Examples of structured data include ZIP codes, phone numbers, and email addresses. Records can be of string and variable length or generated by humans or machines.

Structured data is searchable by humans using generated queries and algorithms using data types and field names such as numeric, alphabetic, date, and currency. Structured Query Language (SQL) is used for querying within relational databases.

This data type is typically stored in a relational database management system (RDBMS). Usually, it consists of text and numbers, which can be sourced manually or automatically within the RDBMS-defined structure.

Structured data examples include the following RDBMS applications:

  • ATM activity
  • Inventory control
  • Student fee payment databases
  • Airline reservation and ticketing

Structured Data: Pros & Cons

The table below outlines the pros and cons of structured data:

Pros Cons
It is easier to manage and requires less processing for retrieval. Structured data is stored in data warehouses, which, while built to minimize space, is difficult to change.
The querying process is simple since algorithms can easily crawl structured data. It comes in a predefined format and, therefore, has a limited scope of application.
There are a variety of tools that simplify the access, management, and interpretation of structured data.  

What Is Unstructured Data?

Unstructured data, also known as qualitative data, is the data type that is stored in its original format and is only processed once the need arises. Sometimes, this type of data has a specific structure, though this isn't predefined.

Unstructured data exists in greater variety and abundance than structured data. Essentially, unstructured data is responsible for at least 80% of all enterprise data, and the stats increase daily. 

Consequently, companies that don’t consider unstructured data are missing out on a crucial angle of business intelligence.

Typical unstructured data that is human-generated includes the following:

  • Email, which is semi-structured via its metadata
  • Websites like Instagram, YouTube, and similar photo-sharing platforms
  • Social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Mobile data through text messages
  • Business application data from MS Office and other data processing packages
  • Media files, including audio and video file formats

Unstructured data that is machine-generated includes:

  • Digital surveillance videos and photos
  • Satellite images from weather and landforms
  • Sensor data from oceanography and vehicle traffic

Unstructured Data: Pros & Cons

The table below outlines the pros and cons of unstructured data:

Pros Cons
It comes in a wide variety, enabling many applications and use cases. The wide variety of formats makes unstructured data hard to interpret and leverage.
It can be quickly collected and stored because it doesn't have a predefined storage format.  
It can be stored in local or cloud data lakes, making it highly scalable.  
It comes in more significant volumes than its structured counterparts, providing greater opportunities to use data competitively.  
The Middle Ground: Semi-Structured Data

Semi-structured data is also nicknamed “data that is self-describing.” This data format has a nature that falls between its unstructured vs. structured counterparts.

It uses semantic markers that store the data as a dataset consisting of records and fields.

Examples Of Semi-Structured Data

A familiar example of semi-structured data is found in photos stored in smartphones. Each photo has an element of location, time, and other structure information that easily distinguishes the photo from others.

Common semi-structured data formats include:

  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), which is structured in name/value pairs, as well as an ordered value list. Its interchangeable nature can be easily transmitted between servers and web applications.
  • XML is a semi-structured document language. It has a tag-driven structure that can be flexibly used for web transportation, making data structure and storage universal.
  • NoSQL (“Not Only SQL”) is a database type that varies from relational databases in that it doesn't separate data from its schema. This makes NoSQL a favorite for storing text that varies in length. NoSQL examples include CouchDB and MongoDB.

Unstructured Vs. Structured Data: Five Notable Differences

A familiar Structured data versus unstructured data can be appropriately understood by considering:

  • Who will be using the data?
  • What data types will they be collecting?
  • When should the data be prepared (before storage or during usage)?
  • Where will the data be kept?
  • How will the data be kept?

The five questions above emphasize the fundamentals and help users understand the difference between structured and unstructured data.

Another crucial difference, apart from storage, is the nature of the analysis. Structured data has attracted mature analytical tools, while those used for mining and processing unstructured data are still in development.

Traditional data mining tools make little value from valuable data sources such as weblogs, rich media, social media, and customer interaction history.

Additionally, unstructured data commands over 80 percent of all enterprise data, with a 55 percent to 65 percent matching growth rate per annum.

Organizations that don’t match up their tools to analyze this massive data category leave valuable business analytics on the table.

The table below overviews structured vs. unstructured data concerning differences:

  Structured Data Unstructured Data
Data Definition • Has clearly defined data types • Undefined and stored in its native format
• Stored in rows and columns, can be mapped to fields • No predefined model
Data Analysis • Easy to search and process by humans and algorithms • Difficult to search and process
Data Nature • Quantitative in nature • Qualitative in nature
• Processing methods include clustering, regression, relationships, and classification • Not processed and analyzed using conventional tools
• Processing methods used include data mining and stacking
Data Storage • Stored in data warehouses in a relational database • Stored in data lakes in non-relational (NoSQL) databases
• Require little storage space • Requires more storage space
Data Format • Format: numbers and text • Wide variety of data sizes and shapes, from imagery to email, audio, video, etc.
• The data format is defined beforehand • It has no data model and requires no transformation

Metadata: The Master Data

Metadata is “data about data.” It’s the master dataset that defines other data types in a given domain.

Metadata contains precious details that help users better analyze a data item to aid decision-making. Additionally, there are preset fields with additional information concerning a given dataset. 

For instance, a web article contains metadata such as a featured image, headline, alt-text, snippet, and slug. This information differentiates pieces of web content on the website. This also applies to tags applied to a video.

Application Of Unstructured Data to Life Science-Focused Firms

The life science industry has recently undergone a digital data disruption, from IoT wearables to high-resolution imaging, not forgetting on-demand patient information that can now be digitally obtained.

Health organizations process a lot of data daily through normal business operations. Collaboration is key to healthcare data processing and interpretation, as observed by Ketan:

“It is critical to collaborate with researchers and the technology ecosystem to develop innovative solutions to seemingly intractable problems emerging in healthcare and life sciences today.”

- Ketan Paranjape, Director of Life Sciences and Healthcare-Intel

Existing and emergent analytical techniques can be used to process “dark data” to understand the treatment and corresponding outcomes better. The insights obtained can further develop more accurate treatment plans for individuals and populations.

Why Life Science Firms Should Harness Their Unstructured Data

Based on the challenges and opportunities provided by dark data, life science organizations can leverage their unstructured data for the following main reasons:

  • Deciphering institutional knowledge: Papers and research conducted and written by professionals and scientists, videos highlighting a safety procedure, and presentations based on corporate research are all examples of corporate, unstructured data.
  • To effectively operate as a company, there should be a way to harness, search, and make this data discoverable. Otherwise, staff won't utilize this asset effectively, as seen when these key contributors exit an organization.
  • Adoption of better data and meta-data management techniques: Unstructured data poses a new challenge to life science organizations: they have ontologies and lexicons that don't harmonize very well with broader search technology.
  • When organizations master how data is used, combined, and reused, they’ll achieve better reconciliation and analysis for better accuracy.
  • This is also the case when a firm purchases an asset from another organization: it usually takes a long time to realize the knowledge acquired fully. The speed of revelation is affected by how well the company responds to and manages unstructured data. For example, progress on COVID-19 research has been made possible by repurposing research on existing drugs. Much of this research was done on data in its unstructured form (e.g., experiment memos or data from an Excel sheet).
  • Advancement of personalized medicine by processing the treatment routines’ dispensement and outcomes: Patient statistics should be better processed to care for preferences, genomes, and body characteristics for users with the same conditions.

Want To Learn More About How We Can Help?

Analyzing unstructured data presents a formidable challenge, considering that over 80% of enterprise data falls into this group. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, enterprise search software can effectively convert unstructured data into structured data.

Our advanced enterprise search tools empower researchers to efficiently search through their company's repository, which may house a wide range of valuable resources. From informative videos and insightful PDF files to audio recordings of important meetings and data visualizations within Excel spreadsheets, these tools enable them to effortlessly access the information they need with just a few clicks.

Our sophisticated tools allow clients to handle searches at the corporate level and across publications, patents, and clinical trials by incorporating the following:

  • Search functionality that rides on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, fine-tuned for the sciences
  • Search support for all relevant media, including video files, PDFs, and spreadsheets.

Biotechnology firm Aditxt’s case study highlights how biotech companies can use their unstructured data to gain critical insights for future research. 

To delve deeper into this topic, we invite you to watch our on-demand webinar: Exploring How AI Interacts with Structured and Unstructured Data in Research. The session will provide you with comprehensive knowledge about managing and utilizing these two types of data effectively. Don't miss this opportunity to gain expertise and drive your organization's data strategy forward. Register today!

New call-to-action

The Author

    Research Solutions|Marketing Team


Ready to See
Article Galaxy in Action?

Schedule a call with a knowledgeable Research
Solutions advisor. We'll get you started with a
FREE 14-day trial, with no obligation.