What Does an Analyst Do?

An example data analyst job description: Analyst responsibilities include collecting, maintaining, manipulating, and analyzing data. Analysts report the results of their analysis to management and other interested parties. Analysts perform a number of tasks related to gathering, manipulating and analyzing numbers. While there is some variation among analysts in different fields, the responsibilities are similar.

Analyst at Work

Gather Data

Most number crunchers spend some of their time gathering numbers. This can be done in many different ways. One way is to work with another organization or agency or even a different part of their own organization to request that numbers be provided. This request will typically specify what data should be included, what form the data should take, and how it should be delivered.
Specifying the data can be as simple as "send me what you usually send" to a series of files detailing exactly the fields and the coding to be used in each field. This can become more complicated when the numbers files are very large or need to be kept secure.
Some analysts gather data in other ways beyond just transferring files. These methods may include in-person, phone and online surveys, interviews, literature reviews and focus groups.

Maintain Existing Data

Analysts also maintain the numbers they already have. Sometimes problems are found in existing data or the data need to be updated to meet a new spec. When this happens, part of the analyst's job description includes going into existing data files or a database and editing the numbers that are already there.
If a user reports a problem the analyst will inspect the data to identify the extent of the problem and then make changes to resolve the issue. Sometimes these changes are done by manually keying the edits but most of the time the changes are done in an automated way with software or code.

Manipulate Data

"Manipulate" sounds a little sinister, doesn't it? In the case of a analyst, manipulate is just another way to say "make changes". For example, a analyst in education might be asked to calculate a grade point average for each student. Or create a field in a data table that contains the total number of absences for each child.
Sometimes the data manipulation can be more complicated. To continue with the education example, the analyst might be asked to create a mathematical model in R that calculates scores that are used to evaluate every school in her state. Or the analyst might implement existing code that calculates how much students grew academically in the last year and predicts how much they will grow over coming years.

Data Analyst and Computer

Analyze Data and Create Reports

Part of the data analyst job description is to analyze data and create reports. Data analysts often use simple descriptive statistics such as count and average to analyze data. Descriptive statistics can also include quartiles, deciles, range and standard deviation. The descriptive statistics that the data analyst uses will depend on the data, the purpose of the analysis and the audience.
Number crunchers also may use more complicated inferential statistics. Inferential statistics are intended to go beyond just describing the data into trying to use the numbers to reach conclusions. Examples of inferential statistics include the t-test, regression analysis, ANOVA and ANCOVA analysis, hierarchical linear modeling, and many others. As with descriptives, the inferential statistics used will depend on the numbers, the purpose of the analysis, and, to some extent, the audience.
Once the analysis is finished the results need to be communicated to an audience. This may be done through a static document but increasingly data analysts are being asked to create dashboards and interactive reports that can be displayed on a computer monitor, tablet or phone. Users want reports that allow them to see the big picture and then drill down into areas of concern.

Statistician Job Description - Day to Day Responsibilities:

  • Collecting new information
  • Maintaining existing information
  • Manipulating information into new forms. Examples include changing datasets from wide to long, recoding values, and adding or removing fields from datasets.
  • Analyzing information
  • Reporting results of analysis to management or others for decision making.

Types of Analysts

Number crunchers work in the public sector (government of all levels), the private sector (for-profit companies) and in non-profit organizations. Typical fields include education (both K-12 and higher ed), healthcare, information technology, business, finance, and marketing.