Examples of Unstructured Data

Big data is so popular nowadays, that everyone seems to do some types of it. While companies adore structured data, unstructured data examples, meaning and importance remain less understood by businesses.

In fact, unstructured data is all around you, almost everywhere.

Social media, Emails, videos, business documents, and other forms of text are among the best sources and examples of unstructured data.

Analyzing and using these types of information is vital! If you want to manage successfully your data quality metrics and usability, you need to get all possible benefits that unstructured information can bring you.

On this page:

  • What is unstructured data? Definition.
  • List of unstructured data examples.
  • Infographic in PDF

Let’s define it:

As the name suggests, unstructured data is information that is not organized in some type of data structure and has not a pre-defined data model. To put it in other words, unstructured data is not contained in a database.

This makes it hard (and impossible) for computers to understand and analyze unstructured information.

Usually, unstructured data is in a text form.

Almost anyone familiar with data management knows that only 20 percent of the data available to businesses is structured data, and the rest 80 percent is unstructured.

While structured data has a high degree of organization and is far easier for data analysis methods to conduct, unstructured information might cause a lot of challenges to data analysis experts.

Yet both types of data has a crucial importance in effective data management and analysis.

Let’s see a list of the most common examples of unstructured data:

1. Emails

Emails are among the most popular unstructured data examples we use every day for business or personal purposes.

It is true that emails have some internal structure and might be arranged by date, size or time. But it is not enough to put them in structured data category. Traditional analytics software cannot digest them.

2. Text files: Word processing, spreadsheets, PDF files

Here the list is enormous. There are so many types of text files that fall into the category of the unstructured information.

From Word and PDF files to spreadsheets, reports, and presentations, the whole business world is loaded with them. They may also be project files, graphics files, XML files and etc….

3. Websites

YouTube, photo sharing sites, Instagram, Flickr, are all great examples of unstructured information. All web content is considered as a source of raw and unstructured information.

4. Social Media

Despite the fact that social media is also a website source, it deserves special attention and its own point in our list.

The data generated from social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn nowadays has a huge impact on business. It is a valuable source of real-time data companies all over the world take advantages of.

When your customer mentions your company or brand on social media through a comment or a post, that immediately becomes unstructured data that you can use for insights and further analysis.

5. Media (images, video, audio)

All sorts of media such as digital images, audio, video, MP3, and etc. represent a huge amount of non-textual data with unstructured manner.

You might wonder why images are considered as unstructured information when they can be placed in databases. And the answer is because we care about the meaning of the picture.

Digital photos are stored in a structured format such as JPG and PNG. However, this image data doesn’t tell us what is there in the image. It needs to be processed in order to understand its meaning.

The same logic you can follow about audio and video files.

6. Mobile data

This includes information such as different types of text messages and location. Mobile data is on its top and continue growing constantly.

Actually, mobile texting has been arising for over 20 years, but now when it comes to business, texting has a huge impact.

Mobile text messaging is now a powerful method for businesses to connect with their customers and to gather valuable unstructured information from them.

7. Communications: live chat, collaboration software, IM

Communications are among the best unstructured data examples and sources nowadays. The world spins around communication.

Because customers require different types of communications in different situations, effective businesses pay close attention to every possible communication channel and form.

Of course, electronic business communications are on the rise and here can be given many examples such as live chat, web conferencing, software collaboration and etc.

8. Customer-generated content

Customer-generated content such as online comments, emails to sales or support teams, emails or calls to the customer service department, are great examples of unstructured data.

Also, think about feedbacks in your company, customer questions and etc. All of them are valuable unstructured data.

9. Raw data from marketing research

The amount of data that can be gathered in just one market research can be enormous. Surveys, focus groups, interviews are common methods of gathering information with the help of appropriate data collection tools.

This data is absolutely raw and unstructured and need to proceed and analyzed further.

10. Books, magazines, and newspapers

All of the writings (books, news, articles, press releases and etc.) are so common unstructured data examples. Even this blog post is unstructured data.

There are thousands of free unstructured data sources available, ready to be utilized by businesses willing to look for them.

11. Medical records

The significant list of healthcare records that create the whole “patient picture” for healthcare providers nowadays are easily digitally captured and presented.

This all is unstructured data that needs to be collected into an organization’s software system.

12. Scientific data

Here can be given many unstructured data examples: oil gas exploration, seismic imagery, atmospheric data, space exploration and so on.

Download the following infographic in PDF

Unstructured data and definition - infographic


So, you see that unstructured data is created all the time and everywhere in the world.

Our economy is a data-driven economy that grows constantly, so unstructured data grows either.

Our use of emails, social media, websites, documents, videos and etc. is bigger than ever before.

Moreover, humans aren’t the only ones that produce data. Computers and machine-based sensors create an astronomical amount of information too.

Believe it or not, your business strategy and success lie in the way you manage and analyze your unstructured data.

If you need deeper information, check the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). It publishes the Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA) standard.


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