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Data

What Kind of Data or Statistics Do You Need?

Before you can start looking for data or statistics, you need to know what you need.

  • Do you need statistics, or do you need data? A statistic is a single number that has been computed to summarize some larger quantity of data. "In June 2020, 67 percent of Americans said that they supported the Black Lives Matter movement" is a statistic. (That statistic came from a survey by the Pew Research Center.) Sometimes, a statistic is all you need. Other times, you'll need data that you can analyze yourself to compute your own statistics. In this example, data would be a file containing the answers given by each of the 9,654 people who responded to the Pew Research Center's survey.
  • What geographic area(s) are you interested in? A single country? Comparing multiple countries? States, counties, provinces, districts, or other small areas?
  • Who is likely to collect and publish the information that you need? There are many different kinds of statistics and data, collected by many different kinds of organizations.
    • Much data, including demographic (population-related), economic and climate data, is usually collected by governments and intergovernmental organizations (e.g., the World Health Organization). Examples of this type of data include unemployment rates, malaria infection rates, and weather records.
    • Public opinion data is usually collected and published by specialized polling organizations.
    • Election returns are also published in specialized databases.
    • Some data can only be collected by small-scale surveys or experiments. For example, do students in classes that use an experimental new curriculum fare better or worse than students in other classes?

Where Can You Find the Data or Statistics You Need?

1) Do you need statistics?

  • YES, I need statistics: Can you find an article (scholarly or newspaper) containing the statistics? If it's a scholarly article, you may be able to cite the article itself as the source of the statistics. Otherwise, you can use the references in the article to find the original source of the statistics. If you can’t find an article with the statistics you need, go to step 2.
  • NO, I need data: Go to step 2.

2) Do you need numbers that governments or intergovernmental organizations are likely to collect, and, if it's for a non-US country or countries, do you only need numbers at the whole-country level?

  • YES: Try the sources on the "Best Bets" tab, especially the first four: Statista, FRED, UNData, and World Bank Open Data. If you can't find the numbers in one of those sources, try one of the regionally-focused sites for the correct region further down the Best Bets page. If you can't find it in any of those sites, go to step 3.
  • NO, I need public opinion statistics for a whole country: Try iPoll if you only need statistics for the United States. If it's not there, or if you need statistics for foreign countries, try Polling the Nations. If you can't find what in you need in either of those databases, please talk to a librarian.
  • NO, I need public opinion statistics for smaller areas: Try Polling the Nations. If you can't find the data you need there, please talk to a DASIL tutor or to Julia Bauder [bauderj], the data librarian. They may be able to help you calculate statistics for smaller areas using data from a national survey.
  • NO, I need public opinion data: Try Roper Express or ICSPR. These sites can be tricky to search, so if you can't find the data you need please talk to a librarian for help with searching.
  • NO, I need election returns: For recent elections, your best bet is to get the data directly from the relevant elections bureau. In the United States, elections are handled at the state level, so this will usually be a subdivision of the secretary of state's office for the relevant state. Using your preferred search engine, search for the name of the state and "secretary of state," then look around the secretary of state's site until you find the election returns. For other countries, elections are usually overseen by the country's ministry of the interior, but the process for finding the returns is the same: search for the name of the country and "ministry of the interior." You may need to be able to read and search in the official language of that country to find the election returns. If you can't find the information you need, please talk to a librarian. Several of the librarians can help you search in other languages.
  • NO, I need other numbers at the province/district/state/county level: Try FRED. If you can't find it there, go to step 3.
  • NO, I need statistics from a small-scale survey or experiment: These statistics are usually found in scholarly articles. If you didn't have any luck finding a scholarly article with the statistics you need in step 1, your best bet is going to be to talk to a librarian about other places to search for articles.
  • NO, I need data from a small-scale survey or experiment: ICPSR is the best database for finding data from small-scale surveys or experiments, but it isn't comprehensive. If you can't find the data you need in ICPSR, please talk to a librarian about other places to look.

3) Browse through the relevant pages on this guide. Do you see any likely candidates there? If so, try them. If that doesn’t work, go to step 4.

4) Do you need data or statistics for the U.S., for another country, or for multiple countries?

  • FOR THE U.S. Go to step 5.
  • For another country: Use the lists of national statistical agencies compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau (scroll down to the bottom of the page) or the United Nations Statistics Division to find links to the local equivalent of the Census Bureau. Can you find the numbers there? If not, go to step 5.
  • I need data for multiple countries: Try using the steps in the bullet point above to look for the numbers via the statistical agency for each country, but beware! Each country's agency may use different definitions for some concepts, making it problematic to compare the data across countries. Also, if you need more than a few countries, this could be very time-consuming.

5) It's probably time to consult an expert.