Data processing is, in general, "the collection and interpretation of data to generate meaningful information from it." The process may involve sorting or grouping data, analyzing the data, manipulating the data, presenting it in a meaningful form, analyzing the results of the analysis, and ultimately interpreting the data. Processing data can be done manually using computers, the Internet, and application software, view here for more details.
One of the most common forms of data processing is the sorting or grouping process. Data sorting or grouping requires an individual to sort or group entire data sets. This includes both text and graphics. One example of sorting would be to sort a list of people by last name. However, not everyone may be interested in how their name was sorted - sorting can be done for aesthetic reasons or for reasons of interest.
Data processing can also be done through the use of applications. Applications are computer programs designed to perform specific tasks. For example, there are sorting and grouping applications that make it easy to sort email. There are also image processing applications that turn digital images into a high-resolution printable format. Most applications work in a similar way, with the occasional addition of special features such as filters and sorting tools.
Data processing is oftentimes done in the context of some form of data entry, in which the machine (the program or tool) enters data into a database or processing unit, transforming the raw data into a potentially readable form. This allows the user (who is, in fact, the program or the tools) to utilize the information initially and then to either edit the raw data, update the raw data, or even add or remove programs or tools. This all occurs without human intervention, although human intervention is always an option should the situation call for it. A well-designed data processing unit can handle a wide variety of data entry functions, including entering medical reports, creating spreadsheets, and sorting and grouping data based on criteria.
However, sometimes you just need a straightforward data processing tool, such as a spreadsheet. In these situations, the spreadsheet itself becomes the information collection tool. If you sort and group your data, for instance, you'd ideally want your spreadsheet to do that sorting and grouping for you. Perhaps you'd rather have the sorting and grouping happen automatically, while the spreadsheet maintains and persists the chronological order of your data collection. In that event, the spreadsheet would become your information collection tool.
Finally, in the final analysis, data processing systems are usually implemented as either distributed processing systems, or as server-based transaction processing systems. Distributed processing systems provide greater flexibility, because you can easily send your processed data over a network of computers, without worrying about data integrity. On the other hand, a server-based processing system limits your ability to send processed data over a network. Transactional processing systems are often best for data processing on a continuous basis. If your data processing needs are primarily for immediate use, transaction processing systems are probably more practical, read more here.