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History Subject Guide

Resources for historical research.

Tips on Finding & Using Data

Finding the right primary data can be difficult. Though much of it is freely available and accessible from universities, governments, and non-profit organizations, there may not be a free data set that exactly matches your topic. 

Some tips for finding useful data:

  • Browse, don't just search. 
    Most data exists in PDFs and excel sheets, which web searches often don't discover. Use the lists below to find likely websites, then look at how they organize their research and browse through logical categories. 
  • Look for small pieces.
    You may not find a chart that answers all of your questions. You're more likely to find several sets of data that provide the information in small pieces. Look for one piece at a time.
  • Look for the 'download' button. 
    Downloading data lets you manipulate it through charts and graphs, or to reorder it to make different conclusions. 
  • Look at the codebook.
    Most data sets have a codebook. The codebook for a data set gives you important information such as how the data was collected, how it is presented, what abbreviations mean, what survey questions were used, and much more. It can be an important tool to help interpret your data. Check out this guide for more information on codebooks.
  • Keep an open mind. 
    You often won't find the exact data you're wishing for - but you may find ways to attack the question sideways, or to adjust what you're asking slightly once you see what data is available. 
  • Ask for help.
    If you can't find what you're looking for, talk with your professor or a librarian and we'll help you find what you need! You can even make an appointment with a librarian!