Identifying Data Needs
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.
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?
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?
Other questions you might ask about your data needs:
In the following pages we will explore using existing data and collecting data yourself for this research scenario. Remember, you might do both.