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Data & Statistics: Finding Data and Statistics

Introduction to finding data

Identify your need:

  1.  Who or What?

Social Unit:  This is the population that you want to study.

It can be…

  • People (For example:individuals, couples, household)
  • Organizations and institutions (For example: companies, political parties, nation states)
  • Commodities and Things (For example: crops, automobiles, arrests)
  1. When?

Time:  This is the period of time you want to study.  Things to think about…

  • Point in time (For example:  A “snapshot” or one-time study)
  • Time Series (For example: Study changes over time)
  • Current information  (Note:  Keep in mind that there is usually a time lag before data will be published.The most current information available may be a couple of years old.)
  • Historic information
  1.  Where?

Space:  Geography or place  There are two main types of geographic classifications…

  • Political boundaries (For example:nation, state, country, school district, etc.)
  • Statistical/census geography (For example:metropolitan statistical areas, tracts, block groups, etc.)

Remember to define your topic with enough flexibility to adapt to available data! Data is not available for every thinkable topic and may not be available.  Be prepared to try alternative data.

Research Strategies

Search Strategy #1:  Identify Potential Producers

Ask yourself: Who might collect and publish this type of data?

Then visit the organization’s website and see if you’re right! Or, search for them as an author in the library catalog. These are some of the main types of data producers:

Government Agencies

The government collects data to aid in policy decisions and is the largest producer of data overall. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Election Commission, Federal Highway Administration and many other agencies collect and publish data. To better understand the structure of government agencies read the U.S. Government Manual and browse FedStats. Government data is free and publicly available, but may require access through library resources or special requests.

Non-Government Organizations

Many independent non-commercial and nonprofit organizations collect and publish data that supports their social platform. For example, the International Monetary Fund, United Nations, World Health Organization, and many others collect and publish data. For more information about NGOs, visit Duke Libraries NGO Research Guide. Data from NGOs may be free or fee-based. The library subscribes to many NGO data resources, so be sure to check the library’s e-resources pages or catalog.

Academic Institutions

Academic research projects funded by public and private foundations create a wealth of data. For example, the Michigan State of the State Survey, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, American National Election Studies, and many other research projects collect and publish data. Much of this type of data is free and publicly available, but may require access through library resources. Access to smaller original research projects may be dependent upon contacting individual researchers or foundations.

Private Sector

Commercial firms collect and publish data as a paid service to clients or to sell broadly. Examples include marketing firms, pollsters, trade organizations, and business information. This information is almost always is fee-based and may not always be available for public release. The library does subscribe to some commercial data services, particularly through the business library.

Search Strategy #2:  Turn to the literature

Search Ventura College Library resources:

Library  Databases

Many index databases will provide statistical data in support of the information they provide. Indexes allow you to search the content, and some provide the full text of articles.

Databases such as CQ Researcher, Country Watch, Opposing Viewpoints, and Jstor will be most useful for locating data on a controversial topic or country.  ProQuest Research Library is also a great multidisciplinary index and a great place to start looking for articles.

Add the keyword terms “data” or “statistics” along with your topic keywords to assure that you retrieve the information you need.

Library Catalog

Use the Ventura College Library Catalog as art of your search to find books on your tope that may cite relevant data providers or for books of statistical tables to identify sources of data.

Add the keyword terms “data” or “statistics” to your search.  Also, you may want to expand your search to include the other libraries within our district.

When searching for books in the library look for the term “statistics” in the subject details for example:  Education—Statistics.

Internet Search Engines

When searching the Internet, be sure to identify your topic keywords carefully and try using synonyms.  Add in terms like “data” or “statistics”.  Use advanced search features such as the “site:” command which allows you to limit your search to a certain website or domain.  For example, if you think that the government is a likely producer of the statistics you need end your search with the command “site:.gov” to only search within the government websites.

Search Strategy #4:  Ask for help

Knowing when to ask for assistance is important.

Contact a Librarian:

  • In Person:  A librarian is on duty during library hours and their desk is located directly across as you enter the library.
  • By Phone:  (805) 289-6382
  • By Email: Send your question to a librarian via email and they will try to get back to you as soon as possible. vclibrary@vcccd.edu

  A librarian may be able to help tweak your search terms, guide you to the correct resource, or may be able to direct you toward a more suitable path if the statistic was never collected or unavailable.

 

Evaluate

Don’t take the data or statistics you collect at face value.  Consider the source and method used to create the data.  Be a critical information consumer!  Assure your source is reliable and credible. Follow the research strategies outlined above.

Cite

Statistics and Data should be cited just like any other source your consult.

Both MLA and APA, at this time, do not provide specific information on how to cite a statistical table, but if you use the rules for citing a work in an anthology, or an article in a reference work, or the guidelines for citing electronic material, it should suffice.  See the following for further assistance: