In linguistic anthropology, there are concepts called prescriptive language and descriptive language. Prescriptive language is about rules or prescriptions for what is and is not grammatically correct based on criteria like etymology, usage in the original language, and rules applied to similar words. In contrast, descriptive language involves describing how language is actually used by people in everyday life, embracing the concept that language is a living, changing entity.
Put another way, prescriptive language is about what should be and descriptive language is about what is. This is an interesting backdrop against which to examine the question…
Is Data Plural?
Let’s start with word origin. Both datum and data come to English from Latin. In Latin, and still in English depending on usage, datum is the singular of data. You can count datum, although you would more often hear an English speaker say he or she is counting data points. Both are correct.
In Latin, data is plural. A plural noun would be followed by “are” as opposed to “is”, for example, the “the data are convincing” versus “the data is convincing”. In the second example, data is used as a mass noun as opposed to a plural noun.
OK, so the question remains, is data plural? Or, is data singular? And the answer is yes. Both are so ubiquitous in modern usage that they are both correct. With that said, there are people who fall in the prescriptive language camp who would argue that based on the plural noun origin of data in Latin, it should only be used as a plural noun.
However, in many well-respected, grammatically-sensitive publications you will routinely see both uses in the same issue or edition across different articles. And, there are of course differences in usage between American English and British English. So, depending on how formal the context and whether you are seeking to publish a written piece, it may be worth assessing the usage convention for that publication.