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SCHOOL OF PSYCHOLOGY


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Basic Research Skills: Bibliographic aids

Accessing other people's data


Health warning
This page has been assembled in a hurry, because it's not a topic I usually have to teach.  Watch out for errors and omissions

Advantages and Disadvantages of Secondary data analysis | National and international data | Sources of summary data | Surveys with some access to raw data | Data archives | References


There are two reasons for wanting to access data that have been collected by other researchers.

Because similar information is needed for both these purposes, we will deal with them together.  This is a very quick introduction, designed to let you know the kinds of things that might be available - it is certainly not exhaustive.  Please let us know of links that you think ought to be added.

Advantages of Secondary Data Analysis

Disadvantages of Secondary Data Analysis

One way of overcoming these problems is to construct indices, in which you bring together responses to a number of items on the original survey to give you a measure of the quantity you are really interested in.  Such an index should of course be tested for reliability and validity just like a scale you are developing through primary analysis.

National and international data

Many of the following notes about government data sources are specific to the UK.  Similar sources will be available for many other countries; obviously the longer the country has been independent and had a stable national government, and the less its history has been disrupted by invasion, occupation, colonisation, and revolution, the better the data are likely to be.  Supranational organizations are good sources for cross-national data;  the UN and its daughter organizations, particularly UNESCO and the ILO (International Labor Organization), produce many tables of statistics, and the EU is becoming increasingly important as a source of European data.  Such cross-national tabulations frequently involve a good deal of forcing to get the data for different countries onto a common footing.  Academic sources are more likely to run across national boundaries, even when located in a single country - for example, the ESRC Data Archive gives access to data from many North American studies as well as research done in the UK.

Sources of summary data

The data sources listed here do not, in general, give you access to raw data that you can analyse for yourself, though in some cases you may be able to specify what kind of analysis you would like.

Surveys with at least some access to underlying data

UK government statistics are collected by the Office of National Statistics.  There is a comprehensive web site describing its activites at http://www.ons.gov.uk, and a catalogue of the statistics it makes available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/data.htm. For most of the following surveys, results are published in book form, and these regular publications can be found in most university libraries.  However, accessing the data over the web can be much more convenient.  For a sceptical look at what goes into national statistics (and what comes out of them), see the book edited by Dorling and Simpson (1999).

Archives

A number of organizations provide archives of data.  Nowadays these tend to combine the functions of an archive with that of a web gateway.  If you go to the organization's main website, you are likely to find links to other electronic data resources; but you are also likely to discover a huge catalogue of datasets, which you can access electronically.  Sometimes you will have to register, or pay a fee for each use, or order the data for supply on CD; sometimes you will be able to get at them immediately over the web.  Some of the most useful archives for UK-based researchers are:

References


Paul Webley, Stephen Lea

University of Exeter
School of Psychology
Washington Singer Laboratories
Exeter EX4 4QG
United Kingdom
Tel +44 1392 264626
Fax +44 1392 264623

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