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How to Find Data and Statistics

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This guide will help you to identify and locate sources for data and statistics. Keep in mind that although "data" and "statistics" are often used interchangably, there is a difference. Statistics are a form of data, while data in its "raw" form is not statistics.
  • What is data?
    Data include sets of raw numbers, usually with many variables, and with the capability of being manipulated.
    • Example of data

      Think about the census as data about numbers of people in a geographic region. Variables will include such things as male vs female, age, income levels, racial/ethnic background, education, etc. You can manipulate the numbers to answer questions about the data -- for example, does income level correlate with education? Raw data is just numbers – no correlations, no comparisons.

  • What are statistics?
    Statistics are data that has been analyzed in some way – percentages, graphs, charts – also called “statistical data.”
    • Example of statistics

      Statistics are usually presented in graphs or charts so you can visualize the data connections.

      • From the Statistical Abstract
        statistical abstract

        Read the description to find out what the chart and numbers are all about. Where would you go for the raw data? Always look at the source. If you found statistics from the US National Center for Education Statistics, would you trust it? Probably. But you should always evaluate the source.

    • Bias in statistics

      Statistics can be used to make whatever point you want. For example, the statistics Planned Parenthood reports about abortion may be different from those used by the National Right to Life organization. Two groups can take the same data and present it to fit their needs. Always be alert for bias in statistics!

  • When to use which
    • Use statistics … if you need quick facts to make a point.

      * If your point is that more males than females report bringing weapons onto campus, you can find statistics to support your argument.
      * If you're arguing that the price of textbooks has been rising, you can find statistics to prove it.

    • Use data … if you need to do in-depth analysis for research

      * If you want to make a correlation between aggressive behavior and gender and video games, you may need to find data and establish your own correlation.
      * If you want to make a point that too much government money is spent on moon exploration, you may need to find data to compare money spent on social issues vs. moon exploration

Sources of Data/Statistics
The following are some of the entities that generate statistics.
  • * Government agencies
    Agencies within the U.S. government (eg, NASA, Census) produce a wealth of data and statistics that are free, available on the Web, and available in many different formats. Access from Google, Library Website, and many other avenues.
  • * Local, National, and International Organizations
    Organizations (eg, World Health Org, American Psychological Association) also provide statistics and data in many formats. Much of it is free, but there may be fees depending on the organization. Access through Google, library databases, and many other avenues.
  • * Researchers
    Researchers, including university faculty, may publish their data and statistics articles or books. Access through library catalog, databases, google scholar, personal request, and many other avenues.
  • * Corporations
    Various companies take existing data from many sources and compile them in elaborate ways for users. These sources usually have a steep cost. Examples of databases the library subscribes to for you include market research databases (Mintel Reports) and company and industry databases (Thomson One).
  • * Data archives
    There are resources that provide statistics on a broad range of topics from a broad range of sources. The ODU Libraries provide access to ICPSR (Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research) for statistics in all the political and social sciences from government, academic and private organizations worldwide.
How to Locate these Sources
There are many tools you can use to locate data and statistics. Google, Google Scholar, library and other databases, and government databases and agency websites are readily available to you.
  • Google
    Often, Google can be a good place to start. You can find government, oganization, and business sites with data available.
    • Search Tips:

      * Within your search statement, include (statistics OR data).

      * To search for government, organization, or educational sites, include - site:.gov, site:.org, or site:.edu

            Example:      "global warming" (statistics OR data) site:.gov

      * You can also use the Advanced Search option to fill in these terms and limiters.

    • Google Scholar
      You can try Google Scholar to identify research articles using statistics or data. Some of the articles will include statistics and will identify the researchers for you to contact if necessary.
  • Library Databases
    Some of the library's 300+ databases focus on providing data and statistical reports/tables (some are listed below). Most others are used for locating articles. Like Google Scholar, the subject specific scholarly databases may provide you with research articles that include statistics or data. You may be able to use the statistical data from within the article or use the author information provided in order to contact the researcher for data.
    • “Find Databases A-Z”
      From the ODU Libraries web site, the "Databases" tab or "Find Databases A-Z" link will lead you to our databases. Academic Search Complete is listed below as a multidisciplinary database, but it is important to also use the subject-specific databases.
    • "Subject Guides"
      The "Subject Guides" link on our website will identify the best databases for finding articles and will often include a category for data & statistics. Search tips: Use advanced search Use Boolean Connectors and Truncation: [topic] and (data or statistic*) Multidisciplinary Academic Search Complete
    • Search Tips:

         * Use the advanced search option.

         * Use Boolean Connectors ( AND and OR ) and Truncation ( * ) as appropriate
             Example: "global warming" and (statistic* or data)

          * Use Subject Guides or Thesauri to identify search terms

      • Academic Search Complete
        Provides a comprehensive scholarly, multi-disciplinary database with full-text, peer-reviewed journals, as well as indexing and abstracts for monographs, reports, conference proceedings, etc. The database features PDF content going back as far as 1887, and searchable cited references for nearly 1,000 journals.
      • Britannica Online Academic Edition
        Provides access to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus, magazines and periodicals, and many other research tools including an atlas, biographies, news, and multimedia. Also contains a comprehensive database of statistics on every nation of the world, and 225 classic works by 140 authors that offer an introduction to significant works of history, literature, philosophy, and science.
      • Business Searching Interface
        Provides an enhanced searching interface to Business Source Complete that allows easy access to company profiles (including Datamonitor reports), industry profiles, market research reports and country reports.
      • Mintel Reports
        Provides access to U.S. and international market and consumer research through reports, data, daily news articles on corporate, product and advertising activity, as well as opinions and comments from Mintel's analysts. ODU students, faculty and staff are required to sign in to their Mintel Reports Personal Profile.
      • OECD iLibrary
        OECD's iLibrary is OECD's Online Library for Books, Papers and Statistics and the gateway to OECD's analysis and data.
      • Statesman's Yearbook
        Includes reliable information on every country in the world, covering history, politics, economics, trade and infrastructure.
      • Thomson ONE (Requires Internet Explorer 6.0, 7.0, or 8.0)
        Thomson ONE provides detailed financial information, including historical data and forecasts, for U.S. and international public companies; Has expanded pricing and exchange history back to 1970. Allows a maximum of 20 users at a time. For information about installing the Thomson Reuters Spreadsheet Link (TRSL), contact Miriam Bridges (mbridges@odu.edu) or Tonia Graves (tgraves@odu.edu).
      • World Almanac
        Contains biographies, encyclopedia entries, facts and statistics on a wide range of subjects.
  • Government Sources
    • Statistical Abstract of the United States
      Contains a collection of statistics on social and economic conditions in the United States. Selected international data are also included. The Abstract is also your Guide to Sources of other data from the Census Bureau, other Federal agencies, and private organizations.
      Provides easy access via the Federal Interagency Council on Statistical Policy to the full range of statistics and information produced by federal agencies for public use.
    • Data.gov
      The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. Data.gov provides descriptions of the Federal datasets (metadata), information about how to access the datasets, and tools that leverage government datasets.
    • Historical Statistics of the United States Millennial Edition Online
      Provides access to over 37,000 data series from the revised and expanded Historical Statistics of the United States, covering topics ranging from migration and health to crime and the Confederate States of America. The fully searchable and downloadable electronic edition permits users to graph individual tables and create customized tables and spreadsheets.
    • VASTAT: Virginia Statistics
      Contains a wide variety of statistical data on Virginia from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
    • Agency Websites
      “Find Government Information” / “Statistics”
      • Subject Specific Government Statistics
        • Business & Labor
        • Crime
          • Bureau of Justice Statistics
            Provides statistics and full text reports on crime, victims, offenders, law enforcement, courts and corrections.
          • Crime in Virginia
            Provides state, county and city crime statistics as part of the Unifrom Crime Reporting Program. Includes violent and property crimes, hate crimes and arrests, as well as statistics on law enforcement employment and officers killed and assaulted.
          • Uniform Crime Reports
            Provides national, state and individual agency crime statistics collected from nearly 17,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States. Includes crime rates, hate crimes and arrests, as well as statistics on law enforcement employment and officers killed and assaulted.
        • Education
        • Health
        • Population
          • American FactFinder
            Contains population, housing, economic, and geographic data from the Decennial Census, Economic Census, American Community Survey (ACS), and Population Estimates Program of the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Data Archives
    • ICPSR -- Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
      Provides access to a vast archive of social science data for research and instruction. ICPSR's data holdings, divided into 17 broad subject areas, are for use with statistical software, such as SAS, SPSS, and Stata. A unit within the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, ICPSR is a membership-based organization, with over 640 member colleges and universities around the world. First time users must create an account.
Evaluate Your Sources
  • Be critical: use the CRAAP test when viewing data and statistics.

       Currency: Note that you may not always find statistics up to date -- it takes a while to collect the data and then publish it.

       Relevance: Do the statistics support your topic?

       Authority: Statistics from government agencies should be trustworthy! Always verify the source of the statistics.

       Accuracy: Look at the statistics carefully for obvious errors.

       Purpose: Look for bias. Anyone can take data and present it to suit their argument.

Copyright & Citation
  • As with any source you use, whether it is from a library database or the open web, it is important to be aware of copyright restrictions.
    Always read the terms of use.
  • Always cite your source, even if it’s free
    • Citation Styles Handbook
      Summarizes and illustrates the bibliographical formatting rules for two citation styles: the American Psychological Association (APA) style and the Modern Language Association (MLA) style. Maintained by the Writer's Workshop, Center for Writing Studies, University of Illinois.

Off Campus Access to library resources
When you select an electronic resource (database, journal, etc.) from off campus, you will need to enter your MIDAS login information. Online resources available through the ODU Library web site are limited to currently registered students, staff, and faculty of Old Dominion University due to licensing restrictions.

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