CMNS 326 (Fall 2015): Finding data

This guide is intended to provide a broad overview on identifying and locating data for your project.

If you need help, please contact Carla Graebner, Librarian for Data Services and Government Information at 778.782.6881 or or Ask a librarian.

Data vs statistics

Use data when you:

  • Need to do analysis
  • Wish to generate visualizations such as tables and maps

Use statistics when you:

  • Need processed data, or data that have been analyzed in some way
  • Wish to support an argument or position in a study or report and don't need to process raw data
  • Want to use something presentation ready

Data may be unavailable for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, if:

  • it is proprietary (licensed/fee-based, funded by private enterprise)
  • it deals with sensitive subjects (health, sexuality)
  • individuals/participants may be identified due to the sample size
Think about your topic before you start. This is a necessary first step and the Michigan State University Library has an excellent introduction.

With the advent of open data, data is also plentiful--it just may not be what you're looking for or at the level of detail you need. You may have to adjust your expectations and revise your criteria to accommodate the data that is available.

Where can you find data?

Library databases

View the library's list of datasets (e.g.: Statistics Canada's Public Use Microdata files, Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR))

Official sources of data (governments or public bodies, associations, non-governmental organizations)

InterUniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR)
SFU is a member of ICPSR. Researchers can access and download data after creating an ICPSR account.

American Community Survey
The American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files are a set of untabulated records about individual people or housing units. The US Census Bureau produces the PUMS files so that data users can create custom tables that are not available through pretabulated (or summary) ACS data products.

IPUMS-International (Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, International)
Access to the documentation is freely available without restriction; however, users must apply for access to the data. The application system requires a description of an applicant's proposed research, and asks for the user's institutional affiliation and other information to verify identity. Every application is individually reviewed by project staff.

Consortium of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA)
Provides access to data across repositories, nations, languages and research purposes; application to access data is required

Government of Canada's Open Data Portal

Open Data BC

Vancouver's Open Data Catalogue

Secondary searching (looking for published articles either in journals or media that reference data or statistics related to your topic). Please refer to the CMNS 261 Assignment Guide on Statistical Resources for an excellent overview on locating secondary sources of statistical data. The strategies outlined in this guide will work for locating data as well as statistics.

SFU-centric resources

The single best source for statistics about SFU is Institutional Research and Planning (IRP). IRP has a wealth of information (downloadable in Excel) on topics ranging from student retention to faculty workload to surveys of students (requires permission to access).