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Economics

Resource guide for ISU economics students and faculty.

Statistics Resources

Statistics in Published Research

Introduction:

Some research projects will ask that you find a published research article with data that you can access and analyze to come up with your own conclusions. This can be complicated for students who cannot find an article with publicly available data. Below are some tips for where to look for when identifying a useful article:

Methods Section:

The best place to look for the availability of data is in the methods section of an article. Authors should spell out precisely how they collected their information in this section. Reading through the Methods section should give you an idea of where they got their data, and if it is from an available source.

Chart/Table Figures:

Another potentially useful place to look when identifying data is directly in the charts or tables presented within the article. If the data presented in the figure is using data not collected by the authors, there will most likely be an attribution in the notes for that figure. This is not always the case, but no note implies the researchers collected their own data and are not making it publicly available.

Example 1: Publicly Available Data

As stated in the earlier tab, the first place to look is the Methods section of an article. There should be a paragraph that outlines how the data was collected for the research. if the authors used data collected by another party, the specific resource will be listed. As in the example below, some authors will use data collected by the government, or another publicly accessible source (see box above for more examples). If the source appears to be publicly accessible, copy the source's name and search for it. This should help lead you to the raw data.

In the example article below (Vogel & Porter), the data is coming from the census and a Bureau of Justice Statistics report called, Prisoners in 2010. Both provide openly accessible data on their websites. Just search for the information you need in the open web. I entered "BJS 'prisoners in 2010'" into Google. The first result to come up is a PDF of the cited report. Finding the census data may take a bit more digging, but it is also available.

 

 

Example 2: Inaccessible Sources:

In many articles, researchers will have collected data using sources that are not publicly available. There are two general reasons why the data is not accessible:

  • The researchers identified a specific population and reached out to them to collect new data on that population just for the purposes of answering their unique research questions. This data is not accessible because the researchers are keeping it private. This is typically to protect the privacy of their research population.
  • The researchers have identified data that already exists but is not publicly available. These researchers have received permission from the data owners to use it for their specific publication. The reason the information is not publicly accessible typically comes down to the privacy rights of the population or the proprietary nature of the information.

In the example below (Sharpe & Litzelfelner),  it states that the authors collected juvenile offender data from "a county in the Midwest." In order to protect the privacy of these juveniles, the authors do not provide enough information about the population to identify where it comes from. Even if the author could identify the county being used, this information would not be available without permission.

Example 3: Chart/Table Notes:

Another place to look for citation information for data sources is within the figures presented in the article. This can be useful because these figures can present the specific tables or portions of a report being used.

In the example below (Sawyer & Wagner), the chart illustrates the reasons why inmates are re-incarcerated after being released from prison. There is a citation in the figure notes that identifies the source of the chart. The authors used a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, Probation and Parole  in the U.S. 2016, to create this chart. Specifically, it lists that the data comes from tables 3 and 7 from this report. Searching for this report returns a PDF with all the attached tables.

Social Sciences Librarian

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Grace Allbaugh
Contact:
Milner Office: Room 415
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Schroeder Hall Room 432
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