Data is a singular noun purl.org

When you read in the middle of a sentence ‘…the data are analysed by…’, you stumble: your subconscious grammatical consistency checks raise an alarm! – you have misparsed them (yes, like that). You automatically go back to the beginning for another go, more carefully this time, but realise, too late, that you are simply reading the work of an author in his weddings-and-funerals suit, writing as he would never speak.

This article is a great example of how we ought to think about grammatical issues.

People often say that such-and-such is the “correct” way to use a word, because of some historical baggage or technical analysis of the structure of language, without realizing that that’s not how people talk.

Others recognize that this is silly, and declare that grammatical discussions are pointless. There’s probably more gained than lost by making such a declaration, but nevertheless, it is not optimal, as it throws the baby out with bathwater that is easily drained.

There is much to be gained by making our writing clear. Whether it’s an essay or a tweet or an invitation to a party, the goal is usually to communicate some idea. Claiming the linguistic high-ground of “correctness”, while referring to a set of rules that do not describe the current language, is akin to wearing a funny costume. This has a place in satire, but in most contexts, it is distracting and condescending to write in this way.

Linguistic descriptivism is not “anything goes”. We humans have a set of grammatical parsing rules already in our brains, and we use them constantly. “Anything goes” isn’t descriptive!

The goal of any grammatical rule should be to help us write with a minimum of distracting complexity, so that our message is more easily understood by our actual readers. Rules that are implied only by the history or structure of words, but which are not actually used in practice, have no place in our language.

People do not take you more seriously if you wear a top hat, monocle, and tuxedo. If you’re not “proper english gentry guy”, don’t do it; and if you are, don’t be surprised that your persona gets in the way of your message.