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Census and Other Statistical Resources

Search Strategy

Finding statistical information on a given topic is not always easy.   Decide before you start your research whether you need “data” or a “statistic”.

Then ask yourself the following questions:

What is the subject or topic of interest?

What variables are of interest? Race? Sex? Acreage? Gross National Product?

Who or what is being counted? Individuals? Businesses? Families? Households?

What level of geography is desired? World? Country? State? County? City?

Do you want data for a single location or multiple locations?

What time period to be covered? Current? Historical?

What frequency do you need?  Are you looking for figures for a specific point in time or are you comparing figures over a period of time? 

What are alternative keywords to describe your topic?  For example, using the word 'adolescents' instead of ‘teenager’.

Consider the following points:

Does the statistic or data set exist?  It may not have ever been collected. 

Who might be collecting this information?  Who cares or has a vested interest in the topic? Are they reliable? Authoritative?

How would this information be gathered? Can it be gathered?  Think about the real world; e.g., Is the data private or personal? Is it illegal or hard to count? Would it be too expensive to gather?

Has the statistical information been released yet?  It takes time to collate and organize information.  Often times there is a time lag between collection and availability.

Was the statistical information published? Was it widely distributed?  Data can be found in journal articles, reference books, corporate or agency records, Internet sites, etc. It could be in an office file cabinet and not widely distributed.

Are there access restrictions? Is the data free?  Is it only available to individuals in the company or agency?

Is the statistical information biased?  Numbers can be manipulated, and charts and graphs can be arranged to a give a certain impression.   Always double-check your facts. 

Do you want the statistical information in a tabular or graphic format or data you can manipulate with appropriate software?

How you answer the above will determine what resources you will use and where to look for the desired data. 

It is more difficult to find historical than current figures. Very current figures are likely to be online.  Historical figures, on the other hand, are more likely to be in print resources, particularly if you are looking for detailed statistics.  More raw data is collected than is ever presented in tables.   While these files may be available, they usually require the use of specialized programs such as SPSS or SAS to manipulate.

Finding statistical information on a given topic is not always easy.  You may have to think outside the box to find the information you need.