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Department of Health and Social Services Library

Getting Started

What do I need to know about my topic before I start looking for statistics?

No matter the subject statistics are limited by both time frame and geography.

Time:  Are you looking for information about a single point in time?  Do you want to look at changes over time?  Do you need historical information?  Current information?

Be prepared that the most current statistics may actually be a year or more old!  There can be multiple year lags before some information is released depending on how often the information is collected, the time it takes to process and crunch numbers, and the public release schedule.

Geography: Geographical areas can be defined by political boundaries (nations, states, counties, cities) or statistical boundaries (mainly Census geography such as metropolitan statistical areas, block groups, or tracts). 

Remember to define your topic with enough flexibility to adapt to available information!

Visual Diagram

A visual diagram helps you start the thought process for your statistics search.

Search Strategies

Search Strategy #1: Identify potential producers

Ask yourself: Who might collect or publish this type of information?

Then visit the organization’s website and see if you're right!

These are some of the main types of producers of statistical information:

Government Agencies

  • The government collects data to aid in policy decisions and is the largest producer of statistics overall. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Election Commission, Federal Highway Administration and many other agencies collect and publish data. To better understand the structure of government agencies read the U.S. Government Manual and browse FedStats. Government statistics are free and publicly available, but may require access through library resources.

Non-Government Organizations

  • Many independent non-commercial and nonprofit organizations collect and publish statistics that support their social platform. For example, the International Monetary Fund, United Nations, World Health Organization, and many others collect and publish statistics.

Academic Institutions

  • Academic research projects funded by public and private foundations create a wealth of data. Some statistical publications are available freely online, but others may require access through library resources.

Private Sector

  • Commercial firms collect and publish data and statistics as a paid service to clients or to sell broadly. Examples include marketing firms, pollsters, trade organizations, and business information. This information is almost always is fee-based and may not always be available for public release.

Search Strategy #2: Turn to the published literature

Look for statistics reported in journal, news, and magazine articles.  If they report a source, be sure to follow it up!

By searching periodical indexes, you can determine if anyone has conducted research into your area of inquiry.  You may turn up a journal article with statistical tables on your topic, or you may find out that you have chosen such a unique topic that little to no research exists in that area.  Maybe you can be flexible with your topic and find a similar substitute.

Search Strategy #3: Targeted Online Searches

Think about where to search and which keywords to use.

Internet Search Engines

  • I know, it's obvious!  When searching the Internet, be sure to identify your topic keywords carefully and try using synonyms. Add in terms like “data” or “statistics”. Use advanced search features such as the “site:” command which allows you to limit your search to a certain website or domain. For example, if you think that the government is a likely producer of the statistics you need end your search with the command “site:.gov” to only search within government websites.

Library Catalog

  • Use the Delaware Library Catalog to find books with statistical tables. 

    Statistical publications will always include the keyword "statistics" in the subject information about the book. For example:

    Education -- Statistics.

    Health insurance -- Delaware-- Statistics.

    Delaware-- Statistics.

    Knowing this, you can use a technique for limiting your search to statistical publications by doing a subject search for your topic.

Search Strategy #4: Ask for help

Knowing when to call in reinforcements is important.

Contact the DHSS Library at 302-255-2789 or DHSSLibrary@state.de.us

Keep in mind that one possible reason nothing is turning up is that the statistic you need was never collected!  Be flexible and consider alternative measures.

Evaluate and Cite

Don't take statistics at face value.  Consider the source and method used to create the statistic.  Be a critical information consumer! 

Statistics should be cited just like any other source you consult.

Making Sense of Numbers

Making Sense of Numbers: Understanding Risks and Benefits. Learning How to Communicate Health Statistics

Created by the National Library of Medicine 

Delaware Open Data Portal

Google Dataset Search

Health Statistics

General Statistics

On the new Google Trends homepage you can explore Trending Stories in real time by category and location. In some locations, you’ll also see featured stories at the top of the page that are curated by the News Lab at Google to provide you with additional insights found in the data. This page may not open using the Internet Explorer browser.

Recommended Books