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Finding Data: Tips for Finding Data

Ask a Data Question

Email your data question to askalibrarian@davidson.edu or make an appointment with a librarian using the button below.

How to start looking for data

1. Define the type of data you need

Consider what/who is being measured, where is it collected, when, and how often

  • What/Who: What is the unit of analysis relevant to your topic?
  • Where: Is the data specific to a specific geography (i.e. global, by state, regional, etc.)
  • When:  Is there a relevant time period is collected?
  • Frequency: How often is the data collected? (annually, semi-annually?)

2. Determine who collects the type of data you are looking for

Think of who has a stake in collecting this data. Also consider who the audience of the data might be. This will help you determine where the data is likely published and how accessible the data is.

An Example:

  • I am interested in finding employment rates for colleges by state
  • The government has a stake in collecting those numbers
  • So I could look in a compendia like DataPlanet (under topic: Education or Labor and Employment) or I could go directly to organizations that I suspect collect relevant data--like the Bureau of Labor Statistics 

3. Start searching for data

Again, keep in mind who collects the data and what this means for where it is located.

  • Data that is collected by organizations and agencies that report, will often be found in compendia or directly through that organization's website. 
  • Data that is collected by individuals and researchers is sometimes available in data repositories.

Strategies for Finding Data

Strategies for Finding Data

Browsing Data Compendia

This is a good strategy if you are not sure what types of variables exist or what data would be relevant for your project

  1. Select a data compendia
  2. Determine the subject area or data type that your topic or variable falls under
  3. Read the descriptions of the resources to determine a promising place to look

Searching by Topic

This guide provides several links to data sources by topic. These links are by no mean exhaustive, but can be a good place to start and can help you get a sense of who are some of the major collectors of data in your topic area.

  1. Visit the Topic page of the Data guide
  2. Find a topic/topics that fits your research area
  3. Start exploring links

Targeted Searching

This can be a good strategy if you have a sense of who is a major source of the sort of data you are seeking. 

  1. Identify the home website of a relevant organization (i.e. the Centers for Disease Control is a major source of health data)
  2. Look for whether the page has a link called "Data" or "Statistics" (Using a control-f search can be helpful here)
    • You might also want to look for any links called "reports" or "publications"--these pages typically have data-sets, but might have published data that will help you identify other source of data, like relevant surveys or studies.
  3. Alternatively, use a Google Advanced Search to search the website for data
    • Use the site or domain search in the advanced search to limit to the website (i.e. www.cdc.gov)
    • Add your keyword terms and add the terms (data OR statistics)
      • i.e. "opioid use" (data OR statistics) site:www.cdc.gov

A sample search in Google Advance search for "opioid use" (data OR statistics) in cdc's website


Literature Mining

Another source of data are the datasets used by scholars in their research. By searching through existing literature, you can get your hands on a dataset. You might also browse a data repository to see if someone has archived the data from their research

To Search for Pre-Existing Literature

  1. Select an appropriate subject-based article database, or go to the Finding Journal Articles Guide to learn about selecting a database
  2. Search in one of the databases and sift through the results for an article that uses a dataset
  3. Alternatively, search through a data repository for relevant data

This guide-page is adapted from the Search Strategies Page from the Data, Datasets, and Statistical Resources by the Research/IT Desk at Carleton College's Gould Library.

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