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Data & GIS: Finding Data

Questions to think about

  • Who
    If you could imagine the smallest unit you'd like to analyze, would it be individual people, households, firms, or something else? What is it that you hope to draw conclusions about?
  • What
    What should the data tell you about these people or other units? How would you measure that, and what kind of categories would you create. These are the variables you need.
  • When
    Do you need data from a particular historical period? Do you need a snapshot (i.e. cross-sectional data) or changes over time (i.e. a time series)? Is the series yearly, weekly, once a decade?
  • Where
    Do you need to know about a particular place--a city, county, state, or country? Within that place, are there smaller areas you would like to compare, e.g. neighborhoods within a city?
  • Why
    Why would someone record data on this subject? If you know who would be interested, then you can infer where you might find it. For example, the Centers for Disease Control is interested in the spread of diseases, so they might be a source for health data.

Strategies for Finding Data

Use a research guide from Penn Libraries that focuses on your discipline. >>
Identify an organization that studies your topic. >>
Search a data archive. >>
Find scholarly articles and identify the authors' data sources. >>
Find relevant statistics and seek out the data from which the statistics were drawn. >>

Collecting Data