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Social Science Reference Data Services: Working with Data

Working with Data

Searching For a Study on Your Subject

Prior to accessing and working with a data file, you must identify a study or database that supplies you with the needed variables. One of the primary data resources available to UGA researchers in the social sciences is the extensive ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) data archive. You can search for studies in ICPSR's archive in three ways:

  • Search the archival holdings by words and phrases appearing in the title, study description (abstract), principal investigator, and ICPSR study number fields. Limited Boolean capability is available in the advanced mode. Browse by topic using ICPSR's outline of subject headings.
  • Browse the thesaurus for detailed subject terms, geographic terms, and personal names.

When you retrieve a list of studies using the above methods of information retrieval, you should read the study descriptions for each study of possible interest. By reading the study description you can usually get a better idea of the general applicability of the study for your research needs.

Once you have narrowed down your list of possible studies to just a few, you should consult the respective codebooks (aka documentation). Codebooks typically provide information about the methodology used, the complete variable and question lists, and the structure of the data files. Examining this detailed information carefully is the best way to make a judgement about the suitability of the study for your research needs with respect to the subjects covered, the statistical advisability of using the data, and the practicality of using the data. Codebooks are commonly available online. 

An additional method for identifying studies and databases by subject is to search for published quantitative research and statistical reports. Information provided about the data sources used in this literature can sometimes be quite useful in tracking down the underlying data. ProQuest Statistical Insight and many other bibliographic databases in GALILEO provide excellent subject access to the published literature of many academic disciplines. Once you have identified an interesting data source, you may be able to find it in the ICPSR archive or on the web. If you are unable to find a study or data resource, suitable for your research needs, or if you need help in assessing the suitability of a study for your research, please contact the Social Science Data Reference Librarian for assistance at or 706-542-8708.

Accessing the Data

To access restricted online data resources such as Datastream, or Compustat/CRSP as well as SPSS and SAS software you will need to use the special access Data Services workstations in the Main Reference room. If you need assistance with accessing a study or data resource, please contact the Social Science Data Reference Librarian at or 706-542-8708.

Working With the Data

All of our restricted data resources as well as many government databases and ICPSR studies are provided with an interface that enables the user to retrieve and manipulate the underlying data. However, much of our collection, including most of the ICPSR archive, consists of raw data files and associated help files. To subset and analyze raw data, you need to be familiar with a statistical software package, such as SAS or SPSS. Some files can also be manipulated with spreadsheet or database management software.

But, in all cases you must first bring the data into your statistical software. Depending on the format of the raw data files, this may be as simple as opening the data file with your statistical software after making sure the data file is correctly named. In some cases it may be necessary to utilize a setup ("syntax") file to read the data into the statistical software format.  In still other cases you may need to write your own setup file from scratch or perform other kinds of data "massaging" to get the data into a useable format.

If you need assistance with statistical methodology, the Statistical Consulting Center, a part of the UGA Department of Statistics, offers consultation services for faculty, staff and students. They can be reached at 706-542-5232 or you can fill out a consultation request form.

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Social Science & Humanities Team ‎