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Datafest 2017 - Social Science Data

This guide accompanies the presentation "Finding, Accessing, Documenting: Social Science Data" at Datafest 2017

Harvard Library - Key Links

Licensed Data

Harvard Library licenses access to hundreds of databases. Although access usually requires logging into each database one by one, there are several noteworthy databases for social science research that enable access to dozens of datasets through a single interface. These tend to be more "plug and play" and are more efficient for downloading large amounts of data. Some common characteristics:

  • Query interface: You can search data from multiple providers with similar search techniques, saving time and forcing you to learn a search interface only once.
  • Export options: Choose from a variety of formats; download restrictions are relatively minimal.
  • Documentation: May be readily available within the product or by contacting the database provider directly,
  • Customer support: Access to help via chat, email and/or phone; can get verification that the data sought is available, ask for technical help, or get help with data documentation.


Social Science Research Data

Data repositories enable social science researchers to securely store and share their datasets. These repositories are good places to identify and access data that have been previously collected and used in academic research papers and projects. While some repositories are discipline-specific, others are broad in subject scope; some may be institution-specific while others are open access.


For more data repositories, visit the Harvard Library Data Management Research Guide.

Identifying Data Sources

In addition to searching licensed databases and data repositories, a literature search is a useful technique for identifying datasets and research methodologies in your discipline. These "aggregators" enable discovery of data cited in academic research output such as peer-reviewed journal articles, working papers, conference proceedings, etc.


For more literature searching resources at Harvard, try:

Documenting Your Own Data

A critical aspect of scholarly research is creating good documentation about your data and your data management practices. This is especially important for reproducibility of results, data integrity, and is often required by publishers and funding sources (and also saves you time and aggravation along the way!).  A few resources to get you started:

For more resources, see the Harvard Library Data Management Research Guide.