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Finding Statistics

This guide is designed to help you in locating statistics from online and print sources.

Locating Statistics

Why is it sometimes difficult to find statistics?

Finding appropriate statistics can be challenging for the following reasons:

  • A large variety of online and print sources exist.
  • New sources for data become available on almost a daily basis (especially online).
  • The exact data you are seeking might not exist.
  • Your chosen topic may blur with other topics making it difficult to sort out which source would be best to use.

Different statistical tables may present data differently. It may be difficult to compare statistical data from different sources—the units of measure, time periods and other variables may differ.

What are some of the challenges to locating and using statistical information?

Compiled statistics can be:

  • Difficult to read and interpret, either because the information is presented in a format you are not familiar with or because it is published in a poorly constructed manner.
  • Embedded in tables and graphics or buried in a web site or print source. This can make it difficult to conduct a successful search.
  • Analyzed inappropriately or inaccurately.
  • Presented in a format that does not exactly match your needs.
  • Only available through subscription or fee-based services.
  • The statistics you need might be within a printed source and unavailable through an electronic database or search engine.

Data sets can be challenging to use because they may be...

  • Published in different formats by different sources making it challenging to accurately compare data.
  • Presented in a format that does not exactly match your needs.
  • Difficult to use because of their large size.
  • Only available through subscription or fee-based services.
  • Difficult to read and interpret, either because the information is presented in a format you are not familiar with or collected in a poorly constructed manner.

Helpful hints for finding statistics

Before you start your search:

  • Allow enough time to locate and find the desired information.
  • Define your information need.  Before beginning your search, establish a clear understanding of what statistics you want.
  • On the other hand, it is also helpful to remain flexible in terms of the information needed. Is the data you are looking for practical and realistic? By modifying your query slightly will you improve your chances of finding useful data?
  • Choose a topic that is likely to be of interest to those who conduct surveys or collect data.

Before beginning your search, or if you are having trouble locating a source, check with your professor to see if she or he can recommend particular sources for the topic you have chosen.

As you search:

  • Print sources may be a good place to begin your search for compiled statistics if you are seeking more general data or the same set of statistics for multiple locations.
  • Be prepared to check numerous sources before finding what you need.
  • Choose the database or print source carefully—focus on subject specific sources first before relying on more generic or general sources.
  • Print sources may be more stable than data on the Internet.
  • If you are using an online database that you are not familiar with, be sure to use the help options to facilitate your searching.

Remember—if you are not finding what you need, are having a difficult time locating a source, or are not sure how to use a database, always ask for assistance from a librarian!

What are statistical databases?

  • Statistical databases are electronic files that contain statistical information. The databases may contain raw data, (or data sets), or compiled statistics.
  • Some statistical databases are free, there is no charge to search them. These are often databases provided by the federal government.
  • Other databases are available only by subscription. The library has subscriptions to several statistical databases.
  • You will receive better results by searching for your information within each database, rather than searching across multiple databases.

Can I search for statistics using Google or another search engine?

Yes, however, it is important to know that web search engines, such as Google or Yahoo!, are unable to search the contents of print or subscription databases.  It can be inefficient to search for statistics using a web search engine.  In any case, you should never start your statistical research with a general web search.

Hints for database searching:

  • How you phrase your search query will impact the results of a search.
  • Using different keywords will result in different retrieval results—even within the same database.  You may need to conduct more than one search to find the information that you need.
  • Good terms for finding statistics include report, research, study, survey, and statistics—along with a keyword for the specific topic.
  • Most databases provide help files to assist you in locating the information that you need.

Remember to ask a librarian if you need assistance!

Where can statistical information be found?

  • Some data is available for free on the Internet or through other sources. Government sources of statistics are usually free to the public.
  • Some statistics are only available from subscription databases. In such a case, a fee is paid in order to be able to access the desired information. Libraries often buy statistical information in order to make it available to library users.
  • Some data, particularly older data and specialized data, is available only in print format.  Generally, you should not expect to rely exclusively on electronically available information, but plan to use print resources that are available in the library as well.
  • Sometimes statistics will appear within newspaper or magazine articles.  These statistics should always have a citation, or footnote, that tells you where to look for the original source of the data.
  • The amount of information available electronically, both for free and through subscriptions, grows daily.  

There is a vast amount of statistical information available through a variety of sources.  Ask a librarian for help if you are not sure where to look for the statistics you need!


Tutorial on Census Statistics

Questions? Contact me!

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Angela Bonnell
Milner Library, Office #417
309 438-2354