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Getting Started Finding Data

This guide was prepared for use by HLS faculty research assistants.



Some things to consider when looking for data:

Do you need "summary statistics" (e.g. simple numbers or figures) or more detailed or micro-level "data"?  Raw, consumable data? If so, in what form? What technical skills and tools do you have?

Time frame and frequency (e.g. annual, monthly)

Time series data?-Do you need data collected at regular intervals over time?

Do you need only current or also historical or retrospective data?  Can you get it from the same source? (Be careful if you are trying to mix data from different sources.)

In what indicators/variables are you interested?  Which ones are critical vs. ideal?

What is your unit of analysis (e.g. individuals, companies, etc.)?

Geographic unit (e.g. country, city, etc.)?

What is the source, scope and methodology of the data you are using?  Definitions?

Who might care about the data that you want? (See Who Might Collect This Data)

Did you do a literature review?  (See Literature Review on Topic)





General compendia, indexes, repositories, portals and data archives

General compendia, indexes, repositories, portals and data archives

When you find an entry, check the source data. See e.g. Live Births, Deaths, Marriages, And Divorces: 1960 To 2014

Finding specialized sources

Finding specialized sources

Literature review on topic


You can look for articles on your topic to find articles that use data originally generated for that article or to see what data the author used in writing the article.  Some databases also have subject and resource-type filters related to statistics, data, indicators, etc. to identify documents consisting of or related to data sets.

Who might collect this data?

Who might collect this data?

It is often useful to consider if there are particular entities that might be most likely to care about and collect this data, such as governmental bodies, organizations, business/trade groups, commercial entities, etc.

You can try identifying a particular governmental body, organization, etc. or start with a general web search using keywords related to your topic (narrowly or broadly) and adding words like data, statistics, index, indicators, etc..  Adding, or to a Google search allows you to limit to websites on those domains.  Certain topics might lend themselves to private research entities.

Polling/public opinion


News/secondary sources

You may sometimes find polls and surveys mentioned in newspaper articles and other secondary sources. You might try looking for words about your topic and adding the words "poll" or "survey" to your search.

Research guides and other materials

Harvard guides

Many subject guides have sections about finding data/statistics, so you might also try looking at our research guides for your subject/discipline words and data or statistics or look for a guide on your topic generally.

Books and Databases

Requesting or purchasing data that has already been identified

Requesting or purchasing data that has already been identified

If you need assistance acquiring or purchasing data, you may start with your faculty member's librarian liaison, submit a purchase request or contact Michelle Pearse, Senior Research and Data Librarian.  The library will work with you and your faculty member to determine how we might be able to obtain the data that is needed.

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