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Data Module #3 - Finding & Collecting Data for Your Research

Identifying Specific Data Needs

Identifying Data Needs

research data

A well-thought-out-research-question identifies what you are going to explore the specific data you need. The basic questions are who, what, where, and when. For example, you may need demographic data pertaining to a specific geographic area.

Be sure to think about your topic from different perspectives in order to avoid gaps in your analysis and identify other variables that might affect the results. One way to do this is to look at how other scholars have examined the same, or similar, research questions.

Obtaining data that fits your specific research needs is important. However, the perfect data may not be available to you. For example, you may not be able to find data that includes all of your desired variables or the date range might not be what you want. You should be wiling to adjust your research, if necessary. Can you accomplish your research with slightly different variables? Might you adjust your date range? If you are not able to accomplish your research objectives by altering data parameters you may need to adjust your research question.

Research Scenarios

Learning Through Example:
Political Science Research Project

Exploring how same day voter registration laws affect voter participation rates among racial groups.

What data will you need?

  • Number of eligible voters in states that allow same day registration?
  • Number of people who voted in states that allow same day registration?
  • The dates that same day registration laws were enacted and implemented in each state?
  • Number of voters who took advantage of same day voter registration?
  • Opinion poll data about factors that influence people choosing whether or not to vote.
  • Demographic information for each neighborhood or precinct? 

The United States Census Bureau collects demographic data at the neighborhood level. Opinion poll data from a variety of news organizations is frequently available, although a particular poll may not ask about same day voter registration. Does anyone automatically collect data on the race of people using same-day voter registration? If not, then has another researcher looked at this question and found a way to obtain this data?

‚ÄčOther questions you might ask about your data needs:

  • You may want data from most or all of the states that have implemented same day voter registration. Will the data be available from all of these states?  Would data from states where same day voter registration is not available be helpful in your research?
  • You will probably want several years worth of data before and after same day registration was implemented in each state. Will data be available for all of the years you want in a way that is accessible to you?
  • You should be able to get voting data by precinct but will you be able to get the socio-economic data at the precinct level or will you need to consider using a different geographic area?
  • Would polling data be consistently available in each state that has enacted same day voter registration?  If not, what impact might that have on your research? 

In the following pages we will explore using existing data and collecting data yourself for this research scenario. Remember, you might do both.