This research guide was created for GEO220 Map Design in Geographic Information Systems at Montgomery County Community College. Original page.
After setting your research question and geographic focus, consider the kinds of data could answer your question and who might create this data.
1. Data Creators
- Governments and their agencies
- International: UN, World Bank
- Federal: Census, USGS, Bureau of Labor Statistics, EPA, Department of Agriculture, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Service.
- State and Local: PennDOT, BMV, Department of Health, Game Commission (wildlife), Gaming Commission (gambling).
- Quasi-Governmental Agencies
- Watershed protection agencies
- Transit, turnpike and port authorities
- Non-profits/think tanks/interest groups
- Medical advocacy associations, Pew Research, PETA, Brookings and Cato institutes
- Research centers and agricultural outreach services.
- Commercial entities
- Yelp, Google, movie box office
2. Notes on data limitations
Here are some considerations as you search for data…
- Data may not be available for the area you desire. For example: Not every police department has crime statistics at the street level. Cases of influenza are generally reported at the county level. You may have to adjust the scope of your research accordingly or find different sources.
- Keep an eye out for mismatched geographies when comparing data sets. Business data may be available at the zip code level while the demographics are at the municipality or census block level. Similarly some statistical regions criss-cross governmental lines including legislative districts and zip codes.
- Data may not be available for the time span desired. The data may only be collected every 5 to 10 years. Even then it can take time to process the data. For example, U.S. Census data is released over a period of 2 to 3 years.
- Data may not be publicly available due to privacy, security or licensing issues. For example, the most recent U.S. Census available with individual names is 1940.
3. Finding data sources
Below is a starter list of great websites. However, you’ll inevitably need to find more information. Here are some tips for searching Google:
- Search terms: Combine your topic with words “data” or “statistics” for possible sources. Examples: “volcano data” or “flu data pennsylvania”
- Try Google’s “site:” hack: Narrow your search to a specific type of website using “site:” followed by search terms. You can narrow search to a type of site or specific site. For instance…
- site:.gov = search US governmental sites
- site:bls.gov = search the Bureau of Labor Statistics only
- site:state.pa.us = search Pennsylvania government sites
- site:.edu = searching university websites
- site:psu.edu = Search Penn State University only.
4. Video Tutorials
5. Great websites
General data and mapping sites
- American FactFinder
- Data and Statistics | USA.gov: Federal Data and Statistics Find data and statistics by topic.
- Data.gov: Portal for federal government statistics
- EarthExplorer: from the USGS
- GeoCommons: GeoCommons is the public community of GeoIQ users who are building an open repository of data and maps for the world.
- National Atlas home page
- National Atlas Data Download
- The National Map: Download topographical maps and much more
- U.S. Board on Geographic Names: search domestic and foreign place names
- USGS: Maps, Imagery, and Publications
Climate, geology, environmental and agricultural data
- Climate Research Data: PSD archives a wide range of data ranging from gridded climate datasets extending hundreds of years to real-time wind profiler data at a single location. The data or products derived from this data, organized by type, are available to scientists and the general public at the links below.
- Data Finder | US Environmental Protection Agency
- Geospatial Data Gateway: The Geospatial Data Gateway (GDG) is the One Stop Source for environmental and natural resources data from the USDA
- National Agricultural Statistics Service
- National Climatic Data Center (NCDC): The world’s largest active archive of weather and climate data producing and supplying data and publications for the world.
- National Hydrography Dataset
- Soil Data Mart – Select State or Territory.
- U.S. Geological Survey
Societal data: Education, crime and health
- Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Childstats.gov: key national indicators of child well being
- National Center for Education Statistics
- CDC – National Center for Health Statistics
- Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics
- Data Websites: Pennsylvania: sources of Pennsylvania data from Stanford University Libraries
- MetroPhilaMapper: Interactive mapping system from the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project at Temple University
- Open Data Philadelphia: Access to more than 175 data sets, applications, and APIs related to the Philadelphia region.
- Pennsylvania Department of Education
- Pennsylvania Geological Survey: Digital Maps, Data, and GIS
- Pennsylvania Governmental Agencies
- Pennsylvania Spacial Data Access (PASDA): Clearinghouse of data from the state of Pennsylvania created by Penn State University
- Pennsylvania State Data Center: from Penn State University
- Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System
- CIA World Factbook: Very basic international data and information to familiarize yourself with world nations
- GEO-Portal: Browse data resources by societal benefit areas. Provided by European Space Agency
- International Data – People and Households: International census data from the U.S. Census Bureau
- World Bank Data
Historical maps and data
- David Rumsey Historical Map Collection: 35,000 local, regional, national and world maps from the 18th and 19th centuries. Focus on the Americas, but includes maps from around the world.
- Historical GIS: Historical GIS data from around the world
- National Historical Geographic Information System: downloadable historic data
- Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection – University of Texas Libraries: thousands of historic and current maps from around the world