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IDSC 198: FOCUS Colloquium

For Professor Fernán Jaramillo - Winter 2021

First Steps in Data Searching

Because there can be so many false starts when searching for data, it is a good idea to establish a big picture for yourself. Answer these questions before you start searching and keep notes as you learn more as you go.

  1. What field(s) of study would be interested in this topic?
  2. What do I already know about the data or measures I'm looking for? 
  3. What is likely to collect the data?
    Think about whether there are government agencies or labs or other groups that would have an interest in this kind of data.
  4. Who is likely to share datasets?
    Universities, scholarly journals, government agencies, professional organizations are all possibilities.

There may be times where the topic you're interested in will not have any accessible data. Before you go too far down the road of committing to a topic, be sure that data options exist and are available to you.

Possible Next Steps in Data Searching

Assuming you have a general topic of interest, you might start looking for data in a number of ways. Here are a few examples.

  • Brainstorm the data landscape of your topic. Go directly to the web sites of the places you identified in this process (hint: this is hard for beginners)
  • Find a published article on your topic and see if mentions that the data are shared. Or, look up the authors' names and see if they have a web site where they share their data. Search data repositories for the name of the article to see if the datasets are shared there.
  • Go to the web sites of government agencies the publish data of general interest to you. Look around at what is there and find some data you would be interested in exploring further.
  • Go to a broad repository like Dryad or DataONE and search by simple keywords describing topics of interest to you. See what datasets are there that might be interesting to work with.
  • If you want to use Google, in addition to keywords for the topic of interest, include the word data, and try advanced limiters like or to pull up only educational and government web sites (but remember that U.S. state government web site use different patterns like

Examples of Places to Search

In order from broad to narrow in scope

Topical Directory of Data Repositories

Multi-disciplinary Data Repositories

Disciplinary Data Repositories

Regional Data Repositories

Topical Data Collections & Guides