What Type of Data Is Categorical Data?


Larry Thompson

Categorical data is a type of data that represents specific categories or groups. It is used to classify information into distinct groups based on characteristics or attributes. In this article, we will explore what categorical data is and its significance in various fields.

Defining Categorical Data

Categorical data, also known as qualitative or nominal data, consists of variables that can be divided into distinct categories. These categories are non-numeric and represent different groups or classes. Categorical data cannot be measured numerically but can be organized using labels or names.

Types of Categorical Data

There are two main types of categorical data:

  • Nominal Data:
  • Nominal data represents categories that have no inherent order or ranking. For example, the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) do not have any natural order. Each color is considered a separate category without any hierarchy.

  • Ordinal Data:
  • Ordinal data represents categories with a natural order or ranking. The categories have a relative position to one another but do not necessarily have equal differences between them.

    For example, a Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” has an inherent order but does not indicate the magnitude of difference between each category.

Use Cases for Categorical Data

Categorical data finds applications in various fields:

  • Market Research:
  • Categorizing customer preferences and demographic information helps businesses understand their Target audience and tailor their products accordingly.

  • Medical Research:
  • Categorical data is used to classify patients into different groups based on symptoms, diagnoses, or treatment outcomes. This helps researchers analyze and compare the effectiveness of different treatments.

  • Social Sciences:
  • Categorical data is commonly used to study social phenomena, such as survey responses on political affiliations or educational levels. It enables researchers to identify trends and patterns in a population.

  • Machine Learning:
  • Categorical data is essential for training machine learning models. Features like gender, nationality, or education level are often represented as categorical variables to predict outcomes accurately.


Categorical data plays a crucial role in various domains by providing a systematic way to classify information into distinct categories. It enables researchers and analysts to gain insights, identify trends, and make informed decisions.

Understanding the different types of categorical data is essential for accurate analysis and interpretation in numerous fields.

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