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4. Data Basics: Obtaining Data

There are two ways of obtaining data:

Data can be found all over the place.  While you can, of course, use general web search engines to try and find data (including terms like data or statistics in your searches may, or may not, be helpful), there are several excellent tools for finding data on a wide range of topics.

General Free Data Resources

Search data.gov for U.S. government data or browse communities or departments.  There are over 300,000 datasets on just about any topic imaginable.


U.S. Census’s web site has access to census data – facts and figures about the U.S. population. 


USA.gov is a starting point for all US government information.  Can’t find what you need in the previous two resources? Try here!


Each state within the U.S., such as Ohio, will have its own government web sites which have data of their own.  If your data need has a state-specific component, try looking on state web sites.


Interested in data from other countries?  Many will have their own data web sites, such as this one from the United Kingdom.

UN Data

Of course, not all data is limited by borders.  The United Nations collects data from across the world.

General Library Data Resources

ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States (OSU only)

Formerly published by the US Census Bureau, this tool has some of the best demographic data about the US population available (many tables arranged by state).

Data Planet (OSU only)

This database has data for many different topics.  You can export data, produce graphs, and more.  Also includes data from private sources.

AP Images (OSU only)

A database containing over 750,000 photographs from newspapers, spanning over 150 years.

See our list of Research Databases for other tools.  Databases for statistics will mostly have more general tools. 

Subject Specific Data Resources

While a lot of information is available in the general data resources described on the previous sections, there are many web sites and databases dedicated solely to finding data for specific subject areas.  Here are some suggested resources:

Arts/Humanities Data:


Science Data:

Social Science Data:

Also check out these subject pages for additional resources:

See our list of Research Databases for other tools by subject, some of which will be data-focused.

Finding data in articles, books, web pages, and more
A lot of data can be found as part of other a source – including web pages, books, and journals.  In other words, the data do not stand alone as a distinct element, but rather are part of a larger work.  Researchers will discuss their data and its analysis - and sometimes provide some (or occasionally, all) of it.  Some may link to a larger data set.  You could, of course, contact an author to request additional data.

The following tutorials will help you search for these information types:

See our list of Research Databases and Subject Pages  for additional tools, many of which are for searching for articles or books.

Terms like statistics or data may or may not be useful search terms to use.  Use these with caution (especially when searching library catalogs).  Once you search for your topic, you may want to try skimming the items for tables, graphs, or charts.   These items are summaries or illustrations of data gathered by researchers.   However, sometimes data and interpretations are solely in the body of the text.

Depending on your topic, you may need to gather data from multiple resources to get everything you need.  You may also find data gathered on the same topic give conflicting results.   This is the reality of research.   When this happens, you can’t just ignore the differences--you’ll have to do your best to explain why the differences occurred.

Pop Quiz

Test your knowledge about where to find data in the Data Quiz


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