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When should I use data in research?
Data files do not always need to be used to answer research questions. In fact, you may want to use a range of data files, published statistics, and reports for your research. Information from raw data files is often already processed into published tables and explanatory reports. Tables and reports can be found in publications stored in libraries, and increasingly, over the Internet. Many numeric information resources are available through online tools for creating customized tables. An example of an online tool is the Census Bureau's American Factfinder. However, for detailed answers to questions, statistically analyzing data can be the best approach. Here are some points to consider when deciding what kind of format will work best for your research:
- Several layers of geography are easier to process in a data file
- Small geographic areas, such as tracts or blocks are usually only found in data files.
- Data files are usually needed for longitudinal and cross-sectional analyses.
- Data files are best for detailed race and ethnicity tabulations.
- Printed reports will usually contain the most recent information.
- Historical information will often only be found in printed tables and reports.
- Online tools will usually generate aggregate tables as well as maps.
- Online tools are best for one or two specific geographic areas, such as two counties, or two cities.
For more information, be sure to review the sections of this web site on What is a Codebook and on Searching for Data.