This week, February 10-14, is Love Data Week 2020! There are many reasons to love data: at all scales, data can help us generate new insights about our lives and the world around us, identify social problems, make smarter business decisions, and more.
Increasingly, we turn to data to inform our research and other projects we are working on here at DePaul. Sometimes, we must create this data ourselves—a process that takes time and resources. Often, the data that we need are already out there and can be repurposed to suit our purposes. Many new insights can come from old data!
Data are created in many different contexts, all of which shape how the data are gathered, analyzed, and made available to others. When searching for data sets, it is helpful to start by asking questions. Consider how your answers will shape your search strategy.
- Who would have created this data? → A scholar, a government agency, a journalist, a nonprofit, a corporation, etc.
- Why? For what purpose? → To create knowledge, to shape policy, to increase understanding of an issue, to inform business decisions, etc.
- How would they share the insights from the data? → Published research, an infographic, white paper, an internal report, in a meeting, etc.
- What would be the incentive to share the data? → Research reproducibility, encourage further investigation, a mandate to make information public
- What would be the incentive not to share data or charge a fee for use? → Proprietary information, competitive advantage, too much effort to clean and publish data
When you do find the perfect data set, seek out the documentation and spend some time getting to know your data. It’s important to understand how the data was created, what the variables mean, and what information might be missing or incomplete.
All of these factors will influence your final analysis, but it’s not always so easy to spot the gaps when we’re not the ones who went through the inherently messy process of collecting the data.
Finally, make sure to cite the data you find and use. This video from ICPSR explains why (and shows just how easy it is to do).
Get Help with Data
It can be tough to navigate the many different contexts in which data are created. With so many options, it is hard to know where to start. Luckily, the library has a Finding Data & Statistics Research Guide: https://libguides.depaul.edu/data
This tool isn’t an exhaustive list of data sources (that would be impossible!), but it’s a great starting point for navigating the complex universe of data. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Not sure how to interpret a data set you found? We’re here to help!
If you’re a student searching for data for a project or a faculty member creating a data management plan for a grant proposal, our Data Literacy Librarian, Sveta, is available to meet with you! Click here to book a one-on-one research consultation and let’s talk data.