Common Data Quandaries: Finding Data

Finding data for your research project can be difficult. You may not be sure the data exist or where to start looking. Further complicating matters, interfaces for retrieving data vary greatly. Ask yourself the following two questions to get your search started on the right foot:

1. Are you looking for Data or Statistics?

statabstIt is easy to get the two terms confused. Statistics are an interpretation or summary of data. They are the result of analysis and usually come in the form of a table or chart. Examples of statistics can be found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Data is the raw information from which statistics can be created. Data usually comes in datasets which are machine-readable files that can be analyzed in programs like Excel, Stata, and R. To get a deeper understanding of phenomenon, you need to analyze data.

2. Who may have created the data or statistic that you seek?

Instead of thinking about the data itself, think about the source. Possibilities include:

The Government. Governments collection all sorts of data on populations, health, business, and many other topics. Department and agency websites often have a data section. Data.gov is the portal to the federal government’s open data. 

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). NGOs often collection data in line with their mission. NGOs can be helpful when looking for local and international data.

Private companies. Business often gather and package data for sale. The library can help with the process of purchasing proprietary data when necessary.

Other researchers. Sharing data is becoming increasingly common among researchers who share their data in data repositories. Re3data is a searchable catalog of data repositories.

These are just two questions to get you started, but there are many more brainstorming questions to help with a data search. Need help? Email me to set up an appointment.

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