Research Guides

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

  1. 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).
  2. Quasi-Governmental Agencies
    • Watershed protection agencies
    • Transit, turnpike and port authorities
  3. Non-profits/think tanks/interest groups
    • Medical advocacy associations, Pew Research, PETA, Brookings and Cato institutes
  4. Universities/Colleges
    • Research centers and agricultural outreach services.
  5. 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…
    • = search US governmental sites
    • = search the Bureau of Labor Statistics only
    • = search Pennsylvania government sites
    • = searching university websites
    • = Search Penn State University only.

4. Video Tutorials

5. Great websites

General data and mapping sites

Climate, geology, environmental and agricultural data

Societal data: Education, crime and health

Economic data

Pennsylvania data

International data

Historical maps and data